If you woke up yesterday having no idea that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster would be on the practice field, then you were certainly not alone in that, as even his teammates were evidently unaware that the coaching staff had plans for him to participate on the Thursday before the team’s first postseason game.
“I had no clue about it. We were just going out there, doing what we do as scheduled, and I was surprised to see him out there today, too”, said fellow wide receiver Diontae Johnson when asked if he knew Smith-Schuster was going to practice.
“In the locker room, I’m like, ‘Yo, you getting ready or something?’. Putting on his cleats. But I’m happy that he’s back. If he gets a chance to play, I’m gonna be excited for him just to see him do what he do, which is make plays”.
“I’m gonna let Coach Tomlin make that decision, but it was good just seeing him move around out there again”, he added. “I felt like he looks smooth. He’s still got great hands, natural catcher, big hand, strong guy. Just being able to see him run around the field and show that he’s still JuJu at the end of the day, it’s exciting”.
Smith-Schuster has been sidelined with a shoulder injury since October after a collision with the ball in his hands back in week five against the Denver Broncos. His absence put the focus in the passing game on Johnson, and the third-year receiver stepped up—mostly. He finished the season with 107 receptions for 1161 yards and eight touchdowns, all career highs.
If they can get Smith-Schuster out there even for just a handful of snaps, however, it would certainly be valuable. They haven’t been getting a ton of production out of anybody else at the position, and it would be nice to have someone to throw to out of the slot other than Ray-Ray McCloud.
“He said he was getting ready to move around a little bit and see how he feels”, Johnson said when he was asked what Smith-Schuster told him. “To me, he looked like he was ready. Obviously he’s got to easily work himself back into things, but he looked smooth today”.
It’s still not overwhelmingly likely that he will be suiting up to play in a game by Sunday night, given how much time he has missed and how little he has worked in the interim, but they are leaving the proverbial light on for him.
Today will be a key day. If he puts in a full day’s work of practice and feels good on Saturday when he wakes up, then there’s a chance. But chances are we won’t know about it until Saturday at 4 PM, when they would have to activate him from the Reserve/Injured List. Before then, they have no obligation to comment on the health status of players who are not on the 53-man roster.