You could argue that there was never a point in this season at which the Pittsburgh Steelers were at full strength on offense. Ben Roethlisberger was done by halftime of the second game of the season, but we know that his elbow injury had been building. And then you factor in Donte Moncrief, whose finger injury likely never allowed him to contribute to full capacity.
It’s only gotten more trying over the course of the season. They’ve even spent the past three games without a pair of Pro Bowl skill position players from 2018, but both of them have been working in practice this week, and may be able to return against the Buffalo Bills.
While others have stepped up in their absence, such as James Washington, Diontae Johnson, and Benny Snell, everyone in the building has been excited to see third-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner get back to work this week.
Especially considering the Steelers have three more big games left, including two against winning opponents, that will determine whether or not they will be postseason-bound, so it certainly couldn’t hurt to have all hands on deck.
Said offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner of the prospect of Smith-Schuster coming back, “I hope so”, according to a transcript of his media pool interview yesterday after practice. “He’s been giving great effort and trying to get back. I mean, I hope it for him. I don’t think any determinations get made until later in the week. So I’m just excited about him being out here”.
He was officially listed as limited yesterday after being full the day before, reportedly leaving practice early, but on that, Fichtner said that he is okay. “I think they’ve just got to keep going through the process”, he said when asked about his condition.
Smith-Schuster suffered a concussion and a knee injury on the same play against the Cleveland Browns several weeks ago. While he was cleared from the concussion protocol a couple of weeks ago, the knee injury kept him sidelined. He only started running again last week.
After posting a big season in 2018 with 111 receptions for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns, his numbers this year have been thoroughly pedestrian. In 10 games, he is sitting at 38 receptions for 524 yards and three touchdowns, with three games left to play.
A great deal of that has had to do with the complete instability of the wide receiver position, of course, but late in the year, the offense appears to be rebuilding an identity around the running game and the poise of Devlin Hodges, their rookie quarterback out of Samford. Perhaps Smith-Schuster will find a rhythm with him, building momentum toward the postseason.