The Pittsburgh Steelers traded away wide receiver Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders during the offseason and his exit now means that third-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will be expected to be the team’s new No. 1 wide receiver. Such a distinction means that Smith-Schuster will now most-likely be the wide receiver to see the larger amounts of double and bracket coverages from opposing defenses as they’ll try to take him away as a target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as much as possible.
After the Steelers Wednesday OTA practice in Pittsburgh, Smith-Schuster was asked if he knows what to expect this upcoming season when comes to all of the extra attention in coverage he’s likely to see.
“Oh, no doubt, no doubt,” Smith-Schuster said. “I mean, we felt it last year. You know, playing against the Patriots, you know, they doubled me and A.B., it wasn’t nothing new. This year it’s supposed to be the same thing. I’m going to be getting the same coverages, the double, and we got guys like [Donte] Moncrief, James [Washington], you know, we drafted a new wide receiver, Diontae [Johnson], we have so many guys who can make plays. So I’m not worried about that.”
Former NFL head coach and current NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci also doesn’t seem too worried about Smith-Schuster being able to handle the extra attention in 2019 from opposing defenses that Brown had previously experienced in the Steelers offense for several seasons.
“Well, he’s going to be a great number one receiver,” Marruci said Wednesday evening on ‘Total Access.’ “JuJu is terrific, and he’s a USC Trojan. But you know what? In some respects, he was the number one last year. He was the leading receiver for the Steelers, 111 catches, leading yards of 1,426 yards. Now he’s going to be the guy with a target on his back, yeah, but he’s got a veteran quarterback in Ben who knows him well.
“He’s going to have to get used to beating the double teams – I beat this corner, now I’ve got a safety up on top. But you know what? The other guys, [James] Washington and Donte Moncrief, and James Conner out of the backfield, are going to have to help. But, yes, this guy, Juju Smith-Schuster is going to be a heck of a number one for the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
Even though Smith-Schuster knows he’ll likely be the new primary passing target in the Steelers offense moving forward, with that distinction coming with him now being referred to as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver, that’s just a meaningless label to him when it comes to the overall goal of the team in 2019.
“It’s super exciting,” Smith-Schuster said. “I think of it like, it’s not about being the number 1 guy. I mean, yeah, you have a number 1 quarterback and a number 1 running back, but at the end of the day, it’s a collective game. The only way you move the ball is if all 11 guys make plays and do their job. That’s what it’s going to take to win the Super Bowl.”
The Steelers youngest wide receiver currently under contract with the team also doesn’t seem to be too concerned about the kind of stats that he registers in 2019, either.
“I would take five catches for 30 yards and win the game, than have 10 catches and two touchdowns. It’s not about myself. It’s about the Super Bowl. All we want to do is win.”
The Steelers will open their 2019 regular season on the road against the New England Patriots and you can bet that their head coach Bill Belichick will do his best to come up with a defensive scheme that provides as much attention to Smith-Schuster as possible. It very well could wind up being one of the toughest challenges the Steelers offense and Smith-Schuster faces all season and thus it will be interesting to see how that unit ultimately fares in that Week 1 contest. At least Smith-Schuster, who won’t turn 23 until November, already has quite a bit of experience against the Patriots.
“I’ve played enough games under my belt where I’m able to take on this and this is just another challenge that we’ve got to deal with,” Smith-Schuster said Wednesday.