The Pittsburgh Steelers have at long last escaped the greedy diva wide receiver who demands the football after trading Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders earlier this offseason. Brown’s persistent complaints about his number of touches during games, particularly when the team is losing, had grown to be a problem, and affected the team.
Now that he’s gone, that give-me-the-ball attitude is gone with him. Or so many would seem to prefer to think. But then again, JuJu Smith-Schuster isn’t out there every day after practice catching three hundred balls from the Jugs machine just got a third of that number during the upcoming 16-game schedule. Donte Moncrief, Ryan Switzer, James Washington, Diontae Moncrief, and the other skill positions players, they’re all going to want the ball, too.
That’s the mindset head coach Mike Tomlin is taking as he heads into his first year since 2010 in which Brown wasn’t an integral part of his offense. When Aditi Kinkhabwala asked him during his pre-draft press conference if he noticed a change in Ben Roethlisberger relative to the absence of pressure from Brown to get the football, he contested the basis of the question.
“I haven’t been around a good receiver that doesn’t want the ball”, he shot back. “I’m sure JuJu Smith-Schuster wants the ball. I haven’t been around a top-flight wideout that doesn’t want the ball. So forget what they said”.
She followed up by specifying if the lack of vocal demands would make a difference. “Give ‘em time”, he said, referring to Smith-Schuster primarily and the assumption that, now that he is the number one target, he’s going to be demanding to get the ball in specific situations as well. In sum, it’s the nature of the beast.
You’d like to think that it doesn’t work that way, but I bet Larry Fitzgerald likes to get the ball, too. Who wouldn’t? It’s why you play the game. You want to win, of course, but you also want to play and actually contribute. You want to carry the ball and score points and do all the things you always envisioned when you grew up playing the game.
The truth is, we don’t know just yet what the future holds for Smith-Schuster. For the time being, he’s still an outwardly relatively humble 22-year-old entering his third season in the league and still very much coming into his own. He also knows how to build his brand, and part of that is a persona, which he knows works.
The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with wanting the ball. It’s about how you go about trying to get the ball that results in problems. Smith-Schuster should want the ball, all the time. That’s one of the natural drives that helps the greats at the position become great.