Training camp is finally here, even genuine practices. This is the first time all year that we, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had the opportunity to take the field in any capacity, which is an all-important step in the process of evaluating your offseason decisions and beginning to put the puzzle together that will shape the upcoming season.
The Steelers are coming off of an 8-8 season, but while they will default to clichés about how you are what your record says you are, they know they have the potential to be much better. Still, they enter training camp with some questions to answer.
They are no different than any team in the NFL in that regard, in any year. Nobody comes to practice as a finished product. So during this series, we are going to highlight some of the most significant storylines that figure to play out over the course of training camp.
Headline: JuJu Smith-Schuster looking to bounce back
Outside of Ben Roethlisberger and his elbow, the biggest story on the offensive side of the ball is all JuJu Smith-Schuster, both what he will look like this season, and whether or not this will be his last year in Pittsburgh, as he is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
Breaking out to become a star in 2018, catching 111 passes for 1426 yards and making the Pro Bowl, the young wide receiver had it all set up to take over the NFL last year, but a conspiracy of factors led to the exact opposite.
Starting with the departure of Antonio Brown in the offseason, who was the team’s number one target and opened up the field for the rest of the Steelers’ targets, Smith-Schuster went on to suffer a toe injury in the season opener that would linger throughout the year. By the middle of Week Two, Roethlisberger was lost for the season. Then more injuries followed, including a knee injury that wiped out a quarter of the 2019 campaign for him.
He finished with just 42 catches on the year for 552 yards and three touchdowns, numbers that pale in comparison to even his rookie season, his catch rate dropping down to just 60 percent, though of course the quality of play at the quarterback position played a key role in this.
Now he has been bombarded with questioning and doubt throughout the offseason? How good is he really? Can he really be a number one receiver, or is he just a really good number two? How much is he worth paying?
These sorts of questions are seemingly inevitable following the season that he had, given that he is still only going into his fourth season, but he intends to use 2020 to answer these questions and then some, returning to a status of being considered one of the best in the game. The only question that would then remain is who would be paying him in 2021—and how much.