The 2019 season didn’t go as planned for just about anybody involved with the Pittsburgh Steelers. That they even managed a .500 record considering everything that they went through is still somewhat impressive. That they were actually in a position to potentially got 11-5 with three games to play was even more remarkable, but, of course, they couldn’t hold on in the end.
And the issues were seemingly almost solely rooted in the offense. The big blow was Ben Roethlisberger going down with an elbow injury by the middle of the second game of the season, and that had a massive ripple effect on everything else. Any minor flaw in anybody else’s game, or in any other unit, was amplified—especially in the backup quarterbacks.
But also for JuJu Smith-Schuster, as a result. Familiar with success, the 2019 season was an unusual experience for him. Suffering injuries, missing games, and not having Roethlisberger to throw him the ball were all adjustments that he had to deal with.
“It was something that was definitely different for me. Those things were all unexpected, but at the end of the day, we worked with who we had”, he told reporters yesterday about playing without his quarterback. “We go out there and we play at the end of the day”.
“One thing with me, I never had experienced injuries where I’ve been out for multiple weeks for that long”, he went on. “That was something I knew I had to learn as a young guy and also being the No. 1 receiver for a team. It was just more so making sure that if I wasn’t playing, making sure that everybody else was a part of doing their thing, making sure that we get in and out of games”.
His injuries began early. He suffered a toe injury in the season opener, an ailment that would linger. Most significantly, he suffered a concussion and a knee injury on the same play toward the middle of the season against the Cleveland Browns. He would miss the next four games and would be clearly limited in the final two games of the season after he returned.
The end result was a season in which he vastly underperformed relative to expectations in a year in which he was supposed to take over the number one wide receiver role from Antonio Brown. It seemed as though the table was set for him to become the most beloved athlete in Pittsburgh, but fate threw him a hard curve.
There are plenty of excuses for Smith-Schuster’s poor season. He doesn’t have any control over those. The only thing he can do is work to improve himself, and keep himself healthy, while making those around him better. And so far, he’s been saying the right things.