2021 South Side Questions: Could JuJu Smith-Schuster Actually Play Sunday?

JuJu Smith-Schuster

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Could JuJu Smith-Schuster actually be on the field for the Steelers this week?

In a surprise twist, the Steelers announced that fifth-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster participated in practice yesterday. It was the first time that he had done anything football-related since suffering a shoulder injury back in week five.

Not even his teammates were aware of the plan for him to practice, apparently, as fellow wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who spoke to the media yesterday, was surprised when he saw his teammate suiting up beforehand.

The Steelers have lacked quality depth since Smith-Schuster’s injury, though he wasn’t having a big statistical impact, himself. In the first four games, he caught 15 passes for 129 yards and did not score on a reception, though he actually had a rushing touchdown.

Head coach Mike Tomlin left open the possibility that Smith-Schuster could indeed play on Sunday. Subsequent reports from beat writers talked about the wide receiver being relatively healthy, but also adding the Steelers were “not planning” on having him available, which is pretty ambiguous and uninformative.

We may have a much better idea of whether or not he could realistically play today—or not. He figures to practice, but the Steelers have no responsibility to comment on his level of participation because he is not on the 53-man roster, even if they have officially started his 21-day activation window. At the least, he is much more likely to be available in a potential Divisional Round game if they can somehow slip by the Kansas City Chiefs.

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