The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Who has the most pressure on them to perform this year between Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and JuJu Smith-Schuster?
Last night I happened to notice an article on NFL.com about the players who have the most pressure on them to perform this season, and Antonio Brown was on the top of the list. Le’Veon Bell was listed as third, with Leonard Fournette sandwiched in between.
And I got to thinking, I’m surprised that JuJu Smith-Schuster’s name isn’t on the list. While he’s not the one moving to a new team, he is the one being asked to play a new role he’s never played before. Brown knows how to be ‘the guy’ and what it takes to be him. So does Bell. These guys are All-Pros who’ve done it all when everybody knew they were going to do it.
Smith-Schuster? He snuck up on people as a rookie, and even somewhat into his second season. But even as people began to recognize him, the reality is that he still always had Brown on the other side. Even when he wasn’t getting targets, he was drawing the most attention, making things easier for the young guy.
Now he’s ‘the guy’ in Pittsburgh, even the veteran, the leader in the locker room, at the age of 22. Even Darrius Heyward-Bey is gone, a key figure in the leadership department. Eli Rogers isn’t going to step up and be the new Heyward-Bey. I’m not really sure Donte Moncrief is that guy either. This is Smith-Schuster’s group now. At the age of 22.
Of course Brown and Bell have immense pressure as well. The Jets haven’t been in the playoffs for a while. But Sam Darnold has even more pressure on his shoulders. Bell is being brought in to take some of that pressure off. Still, he’s determined to prove he made a smart business decision.
Brown has to prove his smart business decision didn’t cost him on the field, and he has to do so with Derek Carr. Carr’s a guy who can definitely play, but he’s not Ben Roethlisberger, with whom he had an amazing relationship for most of his career. The Raiders, or at least their fans, are looking at him as a savior. How much can his presence boost their team?