Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is ready for a new start and a new season with his squad. A squad that no longer includes the brash, bridge-burning Antonio Brown, who was traded to the Oakland Raiders after spending the 2018 season attracting drama like a magnet.
Smith-Schuster has already moved on from all that drama. But in the locker room, Brown’s presence is still felt in many ways.
Smith-Schuster is just 22, but he’s ready to be a leader on a team that’s looking to bounce back after a disappointing and tense season. He can already see the difference in his teammates.
"The chemistry is on point," Smith-Schuster told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "Everyone is on the same page. Everyone is communicating. There's really no — how do you say? — drama in our locker room."
Was Smith-Schuster making a veiled reference to Brown? Almost certainly. But when he talked about Brown directly, his comments were reserved and respectful — even after all the history between the two, which includes Brown calling him out on social media for his critical fumble against the New Orleans Saints. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
“At the end of the day, that’s [Antonio Brown’s] opinion. I’m not worried about what he has going on with his team. I wish him nothing but the best. He’s a great player. He dominates on the field. For me, I’m worried about my teammates and how I can be great on and off the field.”
Even though the locker room is now free of drama (for the time being), Brown’s presence is still felt. He may have been a pot-stirrer, but Smith-Schuster learned a lot from him, and so did a lot of other Steelers players. Brown’s work ethic influenced Smith-Schuster and the entire clubhouse. Via the Associated Press:
"I think everyone picked it up, not only us as receivers but everybody on the team. They all see how AB worked. They seen how he came out here every day and he just ran hard, 100 percent."
Steelers don’t want JuJu to be the next Antonio Brown
The interviews that Smith-Schuster gave to the media only happened after he’d politely refused interviews and walked off the field into the locker room. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Smith-Schuster was back on the field and welcoming interviewers about 15 minutes after he’d initially refused.
Why did he go back out? Apparently quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reminded him about Antonio Brown’s habit of giving just one interview a week. Via the Post-Gazette:
“When you guys see Ben tomorrow, tell him I came out here and did an interview. He said I was trending to that one-day [a week] interview guy. I’m definitely not doing that. You guys can talk to me anytime of the day. I promise you I’m not going to be an [expletive].”
Just the mere mention that he was unintentionally doing an Antonio Brown thing caused Smith-Schuster to backtrack. Looks like Brown’s influence will continue to be felt even after he’s long gone.
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