Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t recall ever seeing JuJu Smith-Schuster make an excuse for anything he’s done, or failed to do, on the football field. He takes his failures hard, and then owns up to them publicly, even when he doesn’t have to. It’s a pressure that he puts on himself, but is also, I think, something that drives him.
Even though he is still one of the younger players on the roster as he heads into year four, including at his own position in spite of the fact that they have drafted three players there since he was taken, Smith-Schuster has assumed the mantle of a leader, understanding that others on the team do turn to him.
After a breakout, Pro Bowl season in 2018, he had a snake-bitten follow-up campaign last year, a perfect storm of losing Antonio Brown, then seeing Ben Roethlisberger go down for the season, and finally dealing with multiple injuries of his own, including a knee injury that robbed him of four games toward the end of the year.
The final toll of the damage was that it saw his production cut into less than half. He caught 111 passes for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns the year prior. In 2019, he was limited to just 42 receptions for 552 yards and three scores. He didn’t lead the team in any statistical category. Not even the longest reception.
A couple nights ago, the 23-year-old found himself in a reflective and motivated mood, and posted the following message on Twitter:
Have a different mindset right now. Need to be the best me for my teammates, coaches, and especially the best fans in the world. Focused & working on bringing Pittsburgh another championship. 🏆
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) April 30, 2020
Smith-Schuster and James Conner, along with Vance McDonald, are the most experience skill-position players on the roster. These are the guys who have to set the example for the rest of the platoon, and they know it. All of them at different phases have talked about their understanding of the importance of being a voice in the locker room.
The truth is that Smith-Schuster and Conner are not the ‘young guys’ anymore. They may not be particularly old, but they’re fourth-year veterans now, and much will be asked and expected of them going forward—whether their futures beyond 2020 continue in Pittsburgh or not.
One thing I don’t think we have to worry about either of them heading into this season is motivation and determination. Both of them are coming off of injury-plagued seasons and in contract years, and they will do everything they can to silence their critics while helping their team win a Super Bowl.