It’s been over two years now, and 2017 second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster is still the youngest player in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receivers room, that distinction no belonging either to 2018 second-round selection James Washington nor to 2019 third-round selection Diontae Johnson.
In spite of the fact that he remains among the youngest players on the team—he will turn 23 in November—he has consistently displayed a maturity, when it counts, beyond his years, even when he was still just 20 years old. Even before he played a down, that included handling the personalities of his seniors. And that continues to be the case, even when they’re gone.
From Martavis Bryant Tweeting that Smith-Schuster was going to be Sammie Coates’ replacement rather than his on the day he was drafted to Antonio Brown calling the fellow Pro Bowler out and accusing him of being dishonest because he hasn’t gotten paid yet, he has successfully navigated a minefield and come out virtually unscathed.
The dissolution of his relationship with Brown, however, was likely particularly rough for him, as he was a player that he routinely went to bat for with the media whenever Brown was questioned, whether it was concerns about his early struggles on the field last season or the many off-field questions that were raised, including pertaining to his leadership role for the younger players at the position.
Smith-Schuster looked up to Brown based on what he accomplished and what he has put himself through in order to achieve those feats, but it has been a long road to disillusionment. Even during the period in which Brown was badmouthing the team trying to get traded, he had to field questions from TMZ reporters about their relationship, and would only offer, “he’s my guy”.
Fast forward a couple months, and a couple of public shots, and we have Smith-Schuster being asked basically if he hates Brown at this point, which he denied any ill will. “To have hate is such a strong word and to have that towards someone, there is no need for that”, he said, according to Andrew Stockey of WTAE.
Asking #Steelers JuJu Smith-Schuster about any ill will towards his former teammate Antonio Brown after his criticisms on social media: “No, no, no .. to have hate is such a strong word and to have that towards someone there is no need for that:” #WTAE pic.twitter.com/5CDV8FM9zG
— Andrew Stockey (@astockeyWTAE) May 3, 2019
Would that be true the other way? Perhaps Brown doesn’t and never hated Smith-Schuster, but he certainly grew jealous of all the attention the new baby was receiving, not just from the fans, the media, and the coaches, but from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Then he was voted team MVP and joined him in the Pro Bowl (which Brown backed out of).
These questions are still being asked now, but with football in shorts now just around the corner, that entire story is going to increasingly fall into the background noise, and hopefully largely be forgotten about. Brown is a Raider, and the Steelers are forging on with JuJu, James, Johnson, and the rest of the bunch.