Although it shouldn’t exactly be a surprise that a wide receiver who is 22 years old and only in the third season of his career has had perfect attendance during voluntary workouts, it hasn’t been by accident that that has been the case for JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He might have simply done it anyway, but as it is, he chose to do it with a purpose, to set the example for the rest of the group. He might be the youngest of them, but in many ways he is the most veteran and certainly the most accomplished. He is the young leader of the group, and this is one of the ways he wants to lead by example.
He said that it was “very important” for him to be there, in large part because of the new faces in the group. Donte Moncrief might be a veteran of five seasons already, but this is his first with the Steelers after signing a two-year, $9 million contract earlier this offseason. Meanwhile, Diontae Johnson was added in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
“There are some new guys on the team, and building that chemistry and that connection means a lot”, Smith-Schuster told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Me just being here, being around other guys, shows I’m ready to play, I’m all about the team, I’m all about us. We’re here for one reason”.
The former second-round pick caught 111 passes for 1426 yards—the second-most and most in team history outside of Antonio Brown, respectively—last season in addition to catching seven touchdowns. He has 169 receptions for 2343 yards and 14 touchdowns through his first two years in the NFL. That’s more than most of the rest of his teammates at the position have combined. He also went to the Pro Bowl in 2018, something none of them have done.
Dulac mentions that Smith-Schuster told him he has been helping the rookie, Johnson, get acclimated to his new life in a new city, taking him out to eat and showing him around. That builds an off-field relationship that will pay dividends on the field as well.
With Brown gone, the 22-year-old has so much more on his plate than he has ever had before. While he himself is still growing as a player, and will even have to adapt this year to being the number one target and playing on the outside more, he is also trying to be there for everybody else.
For the moment, I don’t see any reason to believe that he is going to burn out lighting both ends of his candle. He seems as though he should be capable of handling it. it’s a big ask from the team—probably something he’s asking from himself as well—but he has shown a maturity beyond his years, and has exceeded expectations, since the day he arrived.