Kevin Gorman: Steelers have to hope JuJu learned dos and don’ts from AB
To say JuJu Smith-Schuster learned from Antonio Brown is an understatement about the understudy of the NFL’s most prolific pass-catcher and social-media star of this decade.
That Smith-Schuster embraces the opportunity to replace Brown as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top player in both regards is only as valuable as how much he learned the dos and don’ts.
Especially the don’ts.
That brings me to one of my favorite quotes, attributed to the legendary pool hustler Minnesota Fats: I learned everything I know from idiots. You don’t do what they do. It’s automatic.
The Steelers do hope Smith-Schuster learned the exemplary work ethic exhibited by Brown to continue improving his game. They don’t want him to become so demonstrative in demanding the ball that he becomes a sideline distraction.
The Steelers do need Smith-Schuster to provide the production lost by trading Brown to the Oakland Raiders. What they don’t need is for Smith-Schuster to believe he is bigger than the team.
“As a young dude, I learned a lot,” Smith-Schuster said of Brown. “Honestly, I always told myself I never want to be the center of attention for causing problems or any issues for the organization.”
So far, Smith-Schuster has shown he loves to be the center of attention. Mostly, it’s for having fun off the field.
From the search for his stolen bicycle and quest to get his driver’s license, from trick-or-treating in his football uniform to promoting a water-balloon battle to attending the Chartiers Valley prom, JuJu has brought a youthful exuberance to the Steelers and become a must-follow on Twitter and Instagram.
Just like AB, except different.
“He’s rare. He’s special. He embraces it. He is a little bit different in a great way, in a good way,” Steelers receivers coach Darryl Drake said of Smith-Schuster.
“I’ve had some guys who had an extent of that kind of spirit, but … he’s by far the class. He’s at the top of that with how he approaches things, how he approaches life. He really has a true perspective, the right perspective. He goes out, and he has fun in the community. He loves kids. He loves people, and that’s what makes him special. He’s a special guy. He really is.”
The same could have been said for Brown before his superstardom spun out of control and went to his head.
Smith-Schuster has better statistics through his first two seasons — 169 catches for 2,343 yards and 14 touchdowns — than Brown had through his first three (151 for 2,062 yards and seven touchdowns). But Brown averaged 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past six seasons and led the league with 15 touchdowns last season.
Now, Smith-Schuster has to show he can be special without the benefit of having Brown drawing double teams from defenses on the opposite side of the field. Smith-Schuster is smart enough to know he can’t do it alone.
“It’s not just one guy. There’s always room to improve. I’m never satisfied,” Smith-Schuster said. “It’s kind of like what we were doing with AB, and I came in and nobody knew about me and I made my plays. I’m super excited. Honestly, the competition, I’m ready for all of that and the doubling, too.”
Smith-Schuster is following in the footsteps of Brown but at an accelerated pace. Already, before his third season, he’s a Pro Bowl player known by his nickname and is proving his popularity isn’t confined to Sundays at Heinz Field.
That’s a message Smith-Schuster wanted to send to fans, that players showing and sharing their personality is now the NFL norm.
“To all the kids out there, everyone needs to know that you don’t always need to be all about football or your sport,” Smith-Schuster said. “If you’re able to go out, score touchdowns, make plays, make interceptions, (you can) still go out and have a good time, like YouTube, do all this fun stuff. You don’t have to be one-dimensional.”
As long as the off-field persona doesn’t damage the on-field product.
If JuJu has learned anything from idiots, that should be automatic.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .