Pittsburgh Steelers third-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster holds a comfortable team lead in receiving yards with 340. Only two other players have even reached the 200-yard mark through the first six games of the season, and one of them is running back James Conner. The other is rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who has a couple of long touchdowns on the season.
Johnson has 20 receptions for 212 yards and the two touchdowns, as mentioned. Next up is James Washington, who missed the last game, with nine catches for 140 yards. Vance McDonald’s127 yards and two touchdowns came on 13 receptions. Nobody else yet has reached 100.
Not Donte Moncrief. Not Ryan Switzer. Not Johnny Holton. Even Johnson caught just two passes for 14 yards on Sunday, though Smith-Schuster himself only caught one seven-yard pass in a game-plan that was clearly focused on getting the ball in the hands of the running backs.
During his press conference yesterday, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the importance of the offense being able to establish a number two wide receiver to complement Smith-Schuster, which, to date, they do not have, though they have some candidates.
“It’s important for those guys to make plays when called upon”, Tomlin said in turn. “Who you designate as number two, number three, number four, I mean, all of those guys are ones in their minds. And they need to be”.
In other words, everybody in the room should have the mentality that they are the guy who can make the plays. They are the ones who can make a difference, to step up if given the opportunity. Even Moncrief, even though his ego took a pretty big hit after he was benched for three weeks, and may go back to the bench when Washington is healthy.
“This is professional football. There’s a fine line between being a Pro Bowler and a special teamer”, Tomlin went on in talking about the role of a ‘true’ number two target. “So from a mentality standpoint, I want all of those guys to be ready when called upon, and really, that’s what’s important. How you choose to identify them is less important”.
It appears as though Johnson has the potential to emerge as that number two guy in the future, the way that Smith-Schuster himself did toward the middle of his rookie season and then last year, but right now, he is just finding his legs, even if he is making some plays along the way.
So whoever is on the field, whoever is seeing passes, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they make the plays that are in front of them. It’s JuJu and then a bunch of guys until one of those guys becomes something more than that.