In spite of the fact that he is the most experienced wide receiver on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, JuJu Smith-Schuster not only remains among the youngest, he is also still only somewhat experienced. Three years in the league isn’t necessarily a huge amount of time played. There is still a lot to learn for a 23-year-old heading into his fourth season.
That is something that he acknowledged while speaking to reporters on Monday prior to the start of the team’s first padded practice of the year, talking about ways in which he would like to improve his game from a mental perspective, in comparison even to where he was a year ago.
“For me, it was more so knowing the offense on a better standard”, he said about how he wanted to get better this season. “Last year, I knew outside, inside. This year I’m learning to play the backside wide receiver, being able to play anywhere on the field, in the backfield as a running back. With all the practice going on, it is something that I want to master before the season where I know the whole offensive playbook”.
One would think that this line of thinking comes at least in part from the influence of new quarterbacks coach Matt Canada, who at this point it feels increasingly likely that he should also bear the title of offensive assistant the way Teryl Austin does for the defense.
A number of different players and coaches so far this offseason have already talked about how Canada’s input has been felt this year, particularly in the use of pre-snap motions, which is a major change from what the Steelers were showing last season.
An offense that uses a lot of pre-snap motion is one in which it is all the more important for players to understand that play from every possible point of view that they might be asked to take on. Smith-Schuster has moved around, of course, but he has primarily been a slot receiver over the course of his career.
Now, it sounds like he wants to have a more global understanding of the plays. This is kind of like Mike Tomlin in his college days. As a wide receiver, he wanted to understand why his quarterback didn’t think he was open and throw to him on every play. So he put work into understanding the plays from beyond his own position, and suddenly it dawned on him that they all don’t revolve around him.
I don’t know that a player has ever been negatively affected by knowing plays too well, so I don’t think this is an issue for Smith-Schuster. Perhaps it can help the offense get him into better positions on a more consistent basis that would allow him to succeed.