JuJu Smith-Schuster’s intangibles make him irreplaceable in the Steelers locker room – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog

October 15, 2021

PITTSBURGH – The first thing coach Mike Tomlin mentioned when he listed things the Steelers will lose from the season-ending JuJu Smith-Schuster shoulder surgery wasn’t Smith-Schuster’s toughness in muscle yards after a trapped or its reliability on the third chance. .

It was his spirit, his effort and then the quality of his game.

That’s not to say that Smith-Schuster’s quality of play is easy to replace, but it is the intangibles of the fifth-year receiver that will be the most difficult void for the Steelers to fill.

“You can’t replace JuJu,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Wednesday morning. “… It’s horrible. I’ll speak selfishly, I’m hurt. I miss that guy, what he brings to this team, his energy, his enthusiasm, the leadership. It sucks. He really does. And I’m not the one hurt. I talked to him the Sunday night, and I felt her pain through the phone, talking to her mom too.

“It’s just that sometimes things aren’t fair and we don’t know why they happen. A guy who has given so much means a lot to this team and to me specifically. It’s not fair.”

And that’s exactly what made him so valuable to the Steelers organization on and off the field.

Love him or love him hate him, Smith-Schuster infused the organization and the wide receiver room with a youthful energy that was contagious to other wide receivers. No one else in the reception room has such a striking personality or presence as Smith-Schuster. Diontae Johnson, a 2019 third-round draft pick, is an underrated home run threat. James Washington is tough like Smith-Schuster, but he’s also a quiet worker. Chase Claypool, perhaps the closest to Smith-Schuster in the positional group, is more like his friend with a large social media presence and edgy energy, but lacks authority and veteran experience.

Even Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll recognized the Smith-Schuster X-factors as what the Steelers will miss the most, beginning this weekend in their primetime showdown on Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

“He’s a fantastic player,” Carroll said Wednesday. “I bet he’s a big part of his team too, because he has attitude and energy and all of that to him.”

As seriously as he took his trade in the field, Smith-Schuster seemed unconcerned. His modus operandi was to have fun and inspire people while doing it.

He made headlines from the moment he arrived in Pittsburgh for riding his bike to the Steelers practice facility because he didn’t have a driver’s license or car. A few months into his rookie season, Smith-Schuster’s bike was stolen, inspiring a viral hashtag to find his wheels. The bike was returned and the result was a touchdown celebration. He also has an internet famous dog and a huge following just for his prowess at video games.

Sometimes being so in line caused headaches, like the dangerous challenge of the box, or opponents raved about their “Corvette Corvette” dance on their logos.

Tomlin even appeared to be publicly berating his receiver when asked about the message he gives his players about his involvement in dangerous trends on social media.

“If you’re talking about those things and not football, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” Tomlin said in August. “We are a group that is uniquely professionally focused on what we have to do, and kids have individual responsibilities as adults.”

But Smith-Schuster was a fan favorite for the great personality he displayed on social media, always stopping to sign autographs on the bench during warm-ups or after games. And a week ago, he paid for groceries for a woman who couldn’t find her debit card on the checkout line at a Pittsburgh grocery store.

“It grew to something bigger than I expected,” Smith-Schuster told ESPN earlier this year, explaining his fan base. “My personality, who I am, what I am, they just accept it, and I am grateful that I can be a positive role model for all people.”

With her arm in a sling and a neck brace around her neck, Smith-Schuster stood in front of a crowded room at her foundation’s annual charity luau on Monday, a day after learning her season was over, and left. Let the emotion spill over of the.

“I love this game, more than anyone will know,” he said, his voice cracking and cracking. “I know the whole thing about social media and Tik Tok dances and all that, I do it because it’s my personality and I love it. Don’t get me wrong, but soccer will always come first. Without football, I would not be who I am today. Without football, I would not be a role model for many people. “

That emotion is the essence of Smith-Schuster. It’s what the Steelers will miss the most with the receiving room leader sidelined for the remainder of his one-year contract with the organization that led him to the second round of the 2017 draft.

And, for as many intangibles as the Steelers will lose, there are quantifiable aspects of Smith-Schuster that will be difficult to replicate.

Even though Roethlisberger developed a relationship with Johnson that made him the most specific receiver this season, he continued to maintain a strong connection with Smith-Schuster, the kind that can only be developed through years of working together. The Steelers have the receiving space to absorb their goals and slide into the slot, but since the start of the 2020 season, when he pitches Smith-Schuster, the completion percentage for Roethlisberger (72%) and QBR (75) is significantly higher than when targeting any other player, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information.

He’s also been a dependable third-down option since the 2020 season. He had 35 third-down catches, 27 of which resulted on a first down. That’s the most of any Steelers receiver, and in the entire league, he’s trailing only Keenan Allen (37), Davante Adams (32) and Calvin Ridley (28) in third-down conversions.

His toughness extends to his ability to block and do other dirty jobs, the things that don’t end up in a box score but help the big plays come up.

“JuJu is one of those guys who’s not afraid of touch,” Roethlisberger said. “But you also have to be prepared for that, and he is. He was always a guy who was physical and who set the pace, so I hope other guys keep it up. “

Like the rest of the team, Roethlisberger hopes that Smith-Schuster will be there as he rehabs to continue to infuse the team with his energy, even from the side.

“Just being JuJu,” Roethlisberger said of what Smith-Schuster can still offer. “That is special.”

With Smith-Schuster’s shoulder injury and four-month recovery, Sunday’s win against the Denver Broncos could have been his last in a Steelers uniform. He signed a one-year contract to return to the team in free agency, avoiding more lucrative deals from giant teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens.

Instead, he chose to return for what could have been one last ride, perhaps one last bike ride, with Roethlisberger and an organization that allows him to be himself.

And now, with a blow that dislocates the shoulder, that journey is over, perhaps forever.