Without Brown, Smith-Schuster Ready For ‘Another Challenge’

Steelers WR praises, criticizes Antonio Brown at OTAs

Josh Rowntree
May 22, 2019 - 1:39 pm
Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster at OTAs in 2019

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the new top dog. And he is ready to bark. 

Following the unceremonious departure of star wideout Antonio Brown, Smith-Schuster has now been cast into the role of the team’s lead receiver. 

“It’s super exciting, but I don’t think of it like that,” Smith-Schuster said Wednesday following the second day of Pittsburgh’s OTAs. “It’s not about the number one guy. Yeah, you have the number one quarterback and number one running back but, at the end of the day, it’s a collective game. The only way you move the ball is if all eleven (players) make plays and do their jobs. That’s what it takes to win a Super Bowl.”

It is not as if Smith-Schuster was a slouch last season. His eleven catches and 1,426 yards led the team. He was voted, by his teammates, the Steelers’ MVP. Quite the accomplishment for a player who, just two years ago, was the youngest guy in the NFL.

“With the experience I have, age is just a number,” he said. “I have enough games under my belt where I’m able to take on this. It’s just another challenge I have to deal with.”

Smith-Schuster’s offseason was an interesting one, as he was caught up in Brown’s cavalcade of attacks on the current Steelers’ roster. Brown, in a tweet, criticized JuJu for his game-ending fumble against the Saints in Week 16 of the season.

“At the end of the day, that's his opinion,” said Smith-Schuster, who responded to Brown’s tweet with one questioning why he was being attacked after trying to be a good teammate and friend to Brown. 

“For myself, I kind of stand from afar. I'm not worried about what he has going on, his team. I wish him nothing but the best. He's a great player, he dominates on the field. As for myself, I'm worried about the guys that we have here, my teammates and how I can be great on and off the field.”

Brown, it has been made clear, was a less-than-stellar teammate to fellow wide receivers. While no player, in particular, said as much when Brown was on the team, the writing was on the wall. Smith-Schuster verbalized it Wednesday.

“For myself, being a young dude who saw him as a role model, I came in like, ‘let’s all work to be better, a better person, and win games,’” he said. “His perspective, how he looked at it, was different.”

With Brown now in Oakland, it will be natural for fans and media to compare the two wideouts. A rivalry — one fueled by veiled tweets — seems almost inevitable, if it has not already started among fans.

“There’s no need for that,” Smith-Schuster said. “I’m looking at my own team and how we do and how we win. I would take five catches for 30 yards and win the game than have ten catches and two touchdowns. It’s not really about myself. It’s about getting a Super Bowl.”

That comment is an interesting one. Brown notoriously boasted about his personal stats after losses, like when he went for 185 yards and two touchdowns in that Saints game. A week later, as the top receiver, Smith-Schuster had five catches for 37 yards, as Brown was did not play due to skipped practices during the week.

Through two days of OTAs, the theme among virtually every player has been one of more cohesion.

“The chemistry is on point,” Smith-Schuster said. “We don’t really have a, uh… Everyone’s on the same page. Everyone’s communicating. There’s really no, uh, how you say… drama in our locker room.”

And now, the leadership that Brown apparently lacked, Smith-Schuster is ready to pick up.

“Being a role model for that room, I’m pretty sure I can take on that challenge," he said. "And that’s what I’ve been doing, being the leader and trying to contribute like everybody else. 

“I like to have a little voice. Being a young guy in the room, being 22... I feel like my dog, a French bulldog, just barking at everybody. But, at the same time, we have other dogs that can bark, too. So yeah, I like that role."

Hear all of what JuJu Smith-Schuster had to say below.