Smith-Schus­ter hopes to fill AB’s shoes in Pitts­burgh

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Sports This Week -

JuJu Smith-Schus­ter thrived in An­to­nio Brown’s shadow in his first two years in the league with the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers. Now, we’ll see how he does as top ba­nana.

In­deed, with the seven-time Pro Bowler now in New Eng­land (via Oak­land), the eyes of the Steeler faith­ful turn to the thirdyear wide re­ceiver out of USC to step in and be­come quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger’s pri­mary tar­get. But is he up to the task?

His num­bers cer­tainly sug­gest he is. Fol­low­ing an im­pres­sive 2017 rookie cam­paign that saw Smith-Schus­ter tally 58 catches for 917 yards with seven touch­downs, he earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2018 on the strength of 111 catches for 1,426 yards with seven TDs. So im­pressed were his team­mates that they voted him team MVP for the 2018 sea­son.

But that was with Brown as the No. 1 op­tion, draw­ing the fo­cus of the op­pos­ing de­fense’s best cov­er­age men and of­ten be­ing dou­ble-teamed, which took the pres­sure off other re­ceivers. Now that re­spon­si­bil­ity falls to Smith-Schus­ter, who lacks the break­away speed of a pro­to­typ­i­cal No. 1 re­ceiver. If he’s able to main­tain the same level of pro­duc­tion while keep­ing op­pos­ing de­fenses hon­est, Roesth­lis­berger and the Pitts­burgh air at­tack could be in for an­other big year, AB’s ab­sence not with­stand­ing.

It will be on dis­play Mon­day, Sept. 30, on ESPN, when Smith-Schus­ter, Roeth­lis­berger and the Steel­ers play host to the Cincin­nati Ben­gals in a clash of long­time AFC North ri­vals.

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