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2019 South Side Questions: Will James Conner Or JuJu Smith-Schuster Be Back This Week?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, in which they entered with big aspirations, in spite of a tumultuous start to the offseason. Significant players were lost via trade and free agency, players who have helped shape the course of the franchise in recent years. We even now sit here without Ben Roethlisberger after just two games.

The team made some bold moves this offseason and in some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago. That would especially be the case at wide receiver and inside linebacker, where they have new starters. And quarterback was suddenly added to that list.

How will the season progress without Roethlisberger, behind Mason Rudolph, and now Devlin Hodges? How will the young players advance into their expected roles? Will the new coaches be up to the task? Who is looking good in games? Who is sitting out due to injury?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will either James Conner or JuJu Smith-Schuster play for the Steelers on Sunday?

The Steelers sent six offensive players to the Pro Bowl last year, and really it should have been seven—there was no excuse for Ben Roethlisberger’s exclusion. Of those would-be seven, only two have been on the field in recent weeks, and both of them were offensive linemen. They got a third—another lineman—back on Sunday.

They could get two more back this week, as both running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster are reportedly shooting for Sunday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills as a target date to return.

Both third-year players have missed the past three games due to injury, while Conner has missed five games in total, plus the bulk of a sixth, due to a shoulder injury suffered in the first game after the bye week. Smith-Schuster suffered a concussion and a knee injury four weeks ago on the same play.

Despite their absence, the Steelers have continued to win with contributions from the likes of James Washington, Diontae Johnson, and Benny Snell, the primary position players the Steelers have taken in the draft since their 2017 class.

While these young guys have stepped up in their absence, the opportunity to add them back into the fold would be significant, especially on the eve of such an important game against Buffalo, with the number five seed on the line. If they can beat the Bills, it would become pretty hard for them to miss the playoffs—a once-remarkable thought two months ago, to be sure.

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