Could the Steelers’ offensive unit receive a major boost ahead of Sunday’s wild-card contest against the Chiefs?
Pittsburgh designated JuJu Smith-Schuster to return from injured reserve on Thursday, giving the 25-year-old wide receiver an opportunity to participate in practice for the first time since he suffered a shoulder injury in Week 5. He was originally thought to be out for the rest of the 2021 season, but after the Steelers secured a playoff berth, a Smith-Schuster showing is back on the table.
Here are the latest updates on Smith-Schuster ahead of Sunday’s game.
Will JuJu Smith-Schuster play vs. Chiefs?
The Steelers officially activated Smith-Schuster from injured reserve on Saturday. He is expected to play against the Chiefs, though he will likely be on a snap count.
“I can’t believe I get another chance to take the field with this team and play in a playoff game to keep our season alive,” Smith-Schuster tweeted on Saturday.
God answered my prayers & I’ve recovered from my season-ending shoulder injury earlier than expected. I can’t believe I get another chance to take the field with this team and play in a playoff game to keep our season alive. Steelers Nation, #HereWeGo! pic.twitter.com/SdAKl3SrYx
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) January 15, 2022
Smith-Schuster had shoulder surgery after Pittsburgh’s Week 5 win over Denver and later announced on social media he was “heartbroken” about missing the rest of the season. Now, just three months later, he is ready to once again take the field.
“He looks smooth out there in practice,” Steelers star T.J. Watt said of Smith-Schuster before the team brought him back to the active roster. “I don’t know if that means he’s gonna play, if he’s not gonna play. That’s all above my pay grade. It’s good to have him back, though. I know it’s tough to come back from a big injury like that, so I’m happy to see a smile on his face and see him back out there at practice.”
What JuJu Smith-Schuster brings to Steelers’ offense
During the 2020 season, Smith-Schuster totaled 97 receptions for 831 yards and nine touchdowns. Much of his production came in the short-to-intermediate passing game. He offered Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a big, strong target, and he often served as a safety valve whenever Roethlisberger saw a blitz coming his way.
With Smith-Schuster out for most of the regular season, Pittsburgh relied on other dynamic threats in the passing game such as Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and Pat Freiermuth. Rookie running back Najee Harris has also been a terrific outlet for Roethlisberger, as he racked up 467 receiving yards this season in addition to his 1,200 rushing yards.
But none of those guys can fill Smith-Schuster’s exact role. He brings an added dimension to an offense that will need to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and Co.
Steelers vs. Chiefs injury report
(Current as of 5:30 p.m. ET Friday)
|Steelers||Ben Roethlisberger||QB||Pectoral/Right shoulder||—|
|Steelers||Dan Moore Jr.||OT||Ankle||—|