Steelers News

Ike Hilliard: ‘We’ll Be As Creative As We Need To Be’ In Filling JuJu’s Role

JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington

Though he is the second-youngest in the room, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is the wily veteran in the team’s wide receiver group, now in his fifth season. But they will have to do without him for the remainder of the year after he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery two games ago.

The problem is, they don’t have another receiver on the roster with his exact skillset, so they can’t just plug in one guy and move on. And that’s certainly not what the Steelers intend to do in filling the role of Smith-Schuster going forward, as wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard told reporters earlier today.

He said that they will replace him “with everybody”, when asked. “That’s really what it is. Can’t say we’re gonna replace him. We’ll do our best to make do with what we have, and we’ll get other guys involved outside of the receiver room; the tight end room as well. We’ll be as creative as we need to be in order to supplement the production that JuJu created for us while he was on the field, so it’ll be a good challenge for us, but we’re up to the task”.

The majority have assumed that fourth-year James Washington would be the next man up, who has been regarded as the number four wide receiver behind Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool, but it’s not that simple.

Ray-Ray McCloud has been an active participant in the offense in recent weeks, playing about 70 percent of the snaps during Sunday’s game for example. But we also saw an increase in usage of two-tight end sets in the game, a possible sign of things to come.

The good thing is that the Steelers are now on their bye week, which is the perfect opportunity to self-scout themselves and figure out what to do next. Obviously, Washington is going to be a bigger part of the equation than he has been for most of the season, but it’s understandable that no one person is going to fill the void.

I do expect that rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth is going to receive a significant portion of the targets that might have otherwise gone to Smith-Schuster, considering that the latter has been running a virtual possession tight end’s route tree for the past couple of years.

How much will we see the likes of Claypool, Johnson, and Washington playing in the slot position, though? How big of a role will McCloud play? What about tight end Zach Gentry? And when running back Anthony McFarland gets back, will he contribute to the passing game as well, possibly in two-back sets?

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