The Pittsburgh Steelers have no choice to move on and play the rest of their season without WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. But to Ben Roethlisberger, there is no replacing a guy like that. Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Roethlisberger made that point crystal clear when asked how the team will replace Smith-Schuster going forward.
“You can’t replace JuJu,” Roethlisberger said via Steelers.com.
Smith-Schuster suffered a severe shoulder injury during Sunday’s win over the Denver Broncos, taking a big hit from safety Kareem Jackson on a jet-run play. Smith-Schuster will undergo surgery sometime in the next couple of days and will reportedly need about four months of rehab before he’s healthy again. The only shot for his return could come in a Super Bowl scenario but even then, those odds (and of course, the Steelers chances of actually getting there) are incredibly long.
Roethlisberger spoke about what the injury meant to him on a personal level.
“It’s awful. I’ll speak selfishly. I’m hurt because I miss that guy. What he brings to the team. His energy, his excitement, the leadership. It sucks. It really does. And I’m not even the one hurt. I spoke to him on Sunday night. I felt his pain through the phone. Speaking to his mom as well. Sometimes things aren’t fair and we don’t know why they happen. A guy that’s given so much and means so much to the team and me specifically, it’s just not fair.”
Smith-Schuster signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh in the offseason, opting to take less money to remain with the Steelers, citing Roethlisberger’s return to the team as one of the key reasons why. He banked on having a bounce back season after lackluster 2020 numbers.
But going down five games into a season where his production had even regressed and his market value has taken another hit come this March. There is a path to him returning to the Steelers but his future in Pittsburgh is very much unclear. And for Roethlisberger, likely retiring after this season, won’t get to throw another pass to him again.
While replacing Smith-Schuster’s exact skillset is impossible to do mid-season, Mike Tomlin noted yesterday the team will look for multiple people to wear those hats. That could mean moving Chase Claypool into a more prominent slot role, using Ray-Ray McCloud on jet runs, Cody White as a blocker, and whatever newly signed veteran Anthony Miller can offer this team down the line.