Steelers News

Smith-Schuster Injury ‘A Great Opportunity’ For Ray-Ray McCloud

The Pittsburgh Steelers have only played one game without wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster this year. Suffice it to say that their plans for navigating around that absence are not set in stone right now. But they have time to evaluate the situation while they’re on their bye week. And they know they have to get a number of people involved, such as Ray-Ray McCloud.

It’s a great opportunity for Ray-Ray”, wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard said on Wednesday about the void in the offense that is now there with Smith-Schuster shelved for the remainder of the season due to a shoulder injury.

“Ray-Ray has done a good job. He’s not been an eyesore”, he added, which is perhaps something less than a ringing endorsement. “He will be counted on to help make plays in the F spot, and possibly at the Z and X spot as well. Because all of our guys are counted on to know all spots. We’re looking forward to Ray-Ray’s progression there regardless of what position he plays, and he’s handled it well so far”.

McCloud is in his fourth NFL season after originally being drafted in the sixth round in 2018 by the Buffalo Bills. He spent the 2019 season with the Carolina Panthers before hooking up with the Steelers last year in training camp, earning a roster spot primarily for his return abilities.

Still, he logged over 150 offensive snaps last year, catching 20 passes for 77 yards. He is already nearly at 150 offensive snaps played so far in 2021, as a matter of fact, and has played more than 50 percent of the team’s snaps in three of the past four weeks, due to injuries at the wide receiver position.

Smith-Schuster himself said earlier this offseason that he believes McCloud is the team’s second-best slot receiver behind himself. The coaching staff hasn’t really said or done anything that reflects a contrary belief. But I think it’s fair to say that he will be involved in some capacity.

He does have seven receptions on the season so far, on nine targets, for 54 yards, including a long of 24 yards, which is the longest reception of his career to date. Surprisingly, the team has not gotten him involved in the end-around game yet, virtually the only receiver not to so far. He had a 58-yard run last season.

It will be interesting to see what kind of changes we might be able to observe in the offense on the other side of the bye week. Zach Banner should be back, and perhaps Anthony McFarland as well. The rookies will have had down time to get in some more fundamental work. The coaching staff is self-scouting their groups and scheming new ideas.

What does this mean for the wide receiver group? Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool are your guys moving forward, but how does McCloud fit in, relative to James Washington? And what about Cody White? Anthony Miller? Steven Sims? Will either of the latter two get called up?

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