We should have a pretty good feel later on in the day as to whether or not JuJu Smith-Schuster has a good chance of playing against the Buffalo Bills by the end of the day, dictated by what he is able to do in practice after being listed as a full participant for the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday.
One of the reasons that the team ultimately relented to Antonio Brown’s demand to be traded is because they knew they had a budding young wide receiver in Smith-Schuster who could step into the role of the number one receiver. A series of issues have prevented us from seeing that actually come to full fruition, most recently a knee injury that has had him sidelined for three games.
That coincides with the bulk of Devlin Hodges’ playing time this season. He has started the past two games and played all but three plays of the second half of the game prior to that after head coach Mike Tomlin made the decision to yank Mason Rudolph due to poor performance.
After Hodges made a big completion to Smith-Schuster in the game against the Baltimore Ravens in Week Four after Rudolph suffered a concussion—a game that would admittedly end in a loss on a Smith-Schuster overtime fumble—the pair acknowledged that that was basically the first time they had played together in an 11-on-11 setting.
The rookie quarterback did start the following week, though Smith-Schuster only caught one pass on four targets for seven yards in that game. So they still haven’t had much time working together while the receiver has been sidelined.
Said Hodges yesterday about the potential for finally getting the bigtime receiver back, “it helps a lot. He is JuJu. He is a great player. Just adds another weapon to the offense and maybe change some of the things they may do as far as what they do, I don’t know. It is definitely going to help, thought, that’s for sure. He is a great player and I’m obviously excited for the opportunity of him coming back”.
Smith-Schuster hasn’t exactly blown up the stat sheet this year, primarily working with Rudolph under center. He has only caught 38 of 60 pass attempts for 524 yards and three touchdowns. For perspective, he’s tracking to have a worse season than his rookie year in the same number of games in which he received at least one passing target (13). Last season, he caught 111 passes for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns.
Asked if the performances of James Washington and Diontae Johnson in recent weeks could be of benefit to Smith-Schuster in perhaps drawing some double teams away from him, he said, “it may. We will find out. I’m sure that is something the Bills are game planning for and other teams are game planning for. It is just one of those things you don’t know until you get out there”.