Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster is prepared to embrace a bigger role this season.
The 22-year-old wide receiver will likely be Ben Roethlisberger’s top target in 2019 and is determined to become a consistent downfield threat.
“Being able to catch the deep balls down the field, those go balls, those free balls that they send down the field where I’ve got to go make those plays,” Smith-Schuster said Thursday, via the Tribune-Review. “That’s what I’ve focused on a lot, catching the ball over the shoulder and being able to be a threat on the outside.”
Smith-Schuster led Pittsburgh in receiving yards in 2018, notching 1,426 yards on 111 receptions. His 166 targets were second to Antonio Brown’s 168 last season, but Brown was dealt to the Raiders in March, leaving the top spot up for grabs.
Some question if Smith-Schuster can be dynamic without Brown, who tallied 15 receiving touchdowns last season. But Smith-Schuster made it a point to put in extra work in camp to prepare for a year where he’ll attract a lot of attention.
“It was very important,” Smith-Schuster said of his training. “Obviously, it was all eyes on me. The biggest questions: How are the Steelers going to be without two great players that we used to have? How is JuJu going to do without AB?”
While there are doubters, Roethlisberger has faith in the young wideout.
“I’ve never not targeted him or looked at him or thrown him a long ball because it was him,” Roethlisberger said of Smith-Schuster. “He never had to prove anything to me. I think he can do anything we ask him to do. We ask him to do more than anybody else. We ask him to play slot, back-side single, front-side to the trips. He’s a very well-rounded receiver.”
Pittsburgh missed the playoffs last season after posting a 9-6-1 record and finished second in the AFC North.