There was one factor above all that, given the circumstances, determined for JuJu Smith-Schuster where he would be playing this year, and that was the opportunity to play at least one more season with his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. Despite their 15-year age difference, the two have had quite a connection over the past four years, and he knows what that means, not just in a contract year, but in any year of a playing career to have that rapport.
And, appearing on the NFL Network yesterday during practice, Smith-Schuster said that Roethlisberger very much still has it. “He’s looking good. He’s looking great”, he said on the program. “What he’s done in his past, so many years add up”.
“I’ve got it good, because I have another year with him, and I’m on a one-year deal too, and to be able to come back here was probably one of the biggest decisions that I’ve made”, he added, “mainly because of Ben, knowing that he can give me the ball and knowing that we can make plays together and knowing that we have that chemistry already”.
Last season was not the most dynamic of his career, but he did catch 97 passes on just 128 attempts, with a catch percentage north of 75. While those 97 receptions only went for 837 yards, he also scored a career-high nine touchdowns, and he added a 13-catch, 157-yard, one-touchdown game in the postseason as a topper.
Smith-Schuster entered the NFL as a 20-year-old kid out of USC. He performed a Kamehameha, a Dragonball Z reference, in celebration after scoring a touchdown early that season. He was the youth movement, and helped to revitalize Roethlisberger.
Along with Antonio Brown, the trio would put up exceptional numbers in his second season in 2018, during which Smith-Schuster would go on to the Pro Bowl, catching 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns.
Nothing has gone quite right since then, though. Roethlisberger missed the vast majority of the 2019 season, which certainly didn’t help, but Smith-Schuster also dealt with health issues of his own, including a nagging knee injury that he suffered in mid-2019 and evidently dealt with last year as well.
This year, also under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, the duo is hopeful that they can have a bigger impact, the way that they did a few years ago. Smith-Schuster has a lot more reasons to hope for that, as he prepares, for a second time, to hit unrestricted free agency next year after a so-so season and a down market conspired to keep his value down far below where he felt it should be.