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Steelers notebook: 2nd-round WR Smith-Schuster hitting books at rookie camp

Chris Adamski
| Saturday, May 13, 2017, 6:00 p.m.
Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster catches a pass during drills at rookie camp Friday, May 12, 2017, at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster catches a pass during drills at rookie camp Friday, May 12, 2017, at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side.

Second-round picks generally are counted on to make something of an immediate impact. In JuJu Smith-Schuster's case, the opportunity, seemingly, could be there for him to do just that.

Smith-Schuster joins a Steelers wide receivers corps that never established a consistent No. 2 option — to say nothing of a No. 3 — behind All-Pro Antonio Brown.

The cupboard is not nearly as bare as that might suggest (Martavis Bryant was conditionally reinstated to return this season, Eli Rogers figures to improve in his second NFL season and Sammie Coates, in theory, will be healthy unlike his injury-riddled 2016). Still, Smith-Schuster recognizes there's an opportunity for him to seize.

“I think that's everybody's mentality: to want to start or to be part of the team,” the USC product said after a rookie minicamp practice this weekend. “But right now my mentality is to try to get the playbook down. ... I'm amazed with the alignments. I'm running the right routes, but it's all about the only time you can play is when you know the playbook.”

Smith-Schuster won't turn 21 until the week leading up to the Steelers' 11th game of the season after Thanksgiving. He was the youngest player drafted.

But that hasn't fazed him in the past: Smith-Schuster played all but two games of his true freshman season at USC as a 17-year-old. After having the most yards from scrimmage of any first-year freshman in USC history in a season opener (123), Smith-Schuster was named second-team all-Pac 12 and a freshman All-American.

“Age is just a number,” Smith-Schuster said. “At the end of the day, the person out there is just playing. They're not going to base a player off his age. You can be the oldest player on the field and still ball — shout out to (39-year-old Steelers linebacker) James Harrison.”

Holba's debut weekend

Of the group of specialists (punters, kickers and long snapper) who have spent most of these rookie camp practices with special teams coordinator Danny Smith, only one was drafted: sixth-round long snapper Colin Holba.

“It's different,” Holba said of a pro practice in comparison to one at Louisville. “In college, you have a special teams coordinator, but they are a different position coach. So to have a coach actually work with you in practice, that's something that I liked.”

Holba said Friday he met the veteran kicker (Chris Boswell) and punter (Jordan Berry) who he in all likelihood would be working with if he makes the team.

Come time for training camp in Latrobe, Holba will be working closely with Boswell and Berry as well as with the man he ostensibly is competing with for a job: veteran long snapper Greg Warren.

Former Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt is among the tryouts the Steelers brought in as a specialist.

You're saying there's a chance

Asked if he has an open mind toward any of the tryout players having a chance to make the team, coach Mike Tomlin said, “Always do.”

Twenty-three of the players at rookie camp are there on a tryout basis. For the vast majority — if not all — this three-day weekend will be it, as far as being considered “Steelers.” But oftentimes a tryout or two gets added to the 90-man offseason and/or training camp roster. On rare occasions, some even make an active regular-season roster.

“I have stated (they have a chance), but whether or not they believe me is up to them,” Tomlin said. “Oftentimes, whether or not they believe me has a direct impact on how they perform. I am wishing them the best. It is a legitimate opportunity, but they have to believe it.”

No comment on Villanueva

Tomlin declined to comment when asked if he expected starting right tackle Alejandro Villanueva to be at OTAs. Villanueva is an exclusive rights free agent who has not yet signed his tender from the Steelers.

“I am talking about these rookies this weekend,” Tomlin said.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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