Without JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson Knows WR Room Must Step Up

For WR Diontae Johnson, It’s a “next man up” and a “step up” mentality in order to replace JuJu Smith-Schuster, lost for the season after suffering a shoulder injury in Sunday’s win to the Denver Broncos. Speaking with reporters on a Zoom call Monday, Johnson described what the feeling of the room is without Smith-Schuster in it.

“It’s football at the end of the day,” he said via “Injuries are going to happen and it’s next man up. So whoever is vying, you gotta step up. Ray-Ray, you gotta step up.  And that’s how it’s always been. One person going down, somebody’s got to step in.”

The Steelers’ wide receiver room knows injuries and stepping up all too well this season. Their top four wide receivers – Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, and James Washington – have all missed one game through the team’s first five. Smith-Schuster’s is the most serious but the group hardly got the chance to be healthy this season and now won’t be the rest of the way.

Claypool is likely to have an expanded slot role moving forward with Washington seeing a big jump in playing time, assuming he’s available in Week 6 after sitting out Sunday with a groin injury. Ray-Ray McCloud has slot experience and could also log more snaps there. Practice squader Steven Sims has a similar skillset while Cody White, now part of the 53-man roster, is versatile and has a bit of that “big slot” feel that made Smith-Schuster so unique.

Johnson remains confident the Steelers have enough offensive weapons. With or without Smith-Schuster, his approach to this week’s game remains the same.

“Everybody’s capable of playing and contributing to the offense. We’re not worried about that. We still going to go out there and play for JuJu no matter what the situation is.. And still go out there to do our thing on Sundays. Get ready to work this week. too.”

The spotlight will be on Johnson even more the rest of the way. The team’s best receiver through the first five weeks, Johnson is second on the team in receptions (25) yards (305) and is the only Steeler with more than one receiving touchdown this year, despite missing one game already. The biggest improvement in his game are the lack of drops. Johnson’s yet to drop a pass this season and has caught nearly 68% of his targets this year, a significant jump from his 61.1% rate in 2020.

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