JuJu Smith-Schuster says he'll be outside more often in Steelers offense this season

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May 13—On Wednesday, we mentioned how JuJu Smith-Schuster voiced his displeasure with a 17-game season during a recent Adam Schefter ESPN podcast.

Here's another nugget from that conversation. Smith-Schuster said he is going to play outside more often in 2021.

Schefter asked Smith-Schuster what NFL observers can expect out of him while he's working on his new one-year contract with the Steelers.

"You are going to get the whole package," Smith-Schuster said. "I think the biggest thing that a lot of people are talking about is me playing outside. You'll definitely see me playing outside more."

I don't know who Smith-Schuster meant by "a lot of people." Does that mean his fans on Twitch, Twitter and Instagram? Or does that mean offensive coordinator Matt Canada, head coach Mike Tomlin, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and general manager Kevin Colbert?

Because that first group doesn't matter. The second group does.

According to PlayerProfiler.com, a stats-based website often used as a fantasy-league tool, Smith-Schuster's 711 slot snaps and 629 routes run were the most in the NFL last season. However, his average target distance was a meager 5.8 yards (106th), and he got only six deep targets all year (94th).

So, yes, bumping him outside would certainly help Smith-Schuster individually. And perhaps if running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth can stay healthy and be effective as rookies, they can be used as check down options or short targets. That'd give Canada the option to slide Smith-Schuster to the outside more often.

If that happens, look for James Washington, Diontae Johnson or Chase Claypool to potentially lose some snaps along the way.

I'll also be interested to see what the acquisitions of Harris and Freiermuth do in terms of impacting play calling in the red zone. Pro Football Reference logged 17 red-zone receiving targets for Smith-Schuster, tied for 11th in the NFL. His 14 catches were fourth.

Freiermuth could prove to be a good option out of two-tight end sets with Eric Ebron down close to the end zone. And the Steelers may try to run more often as they approach the goal line with Harris.

Overall, Smith-Schuster said Harris' presence will be a good thing.

"It's going to be awesome," Smith-Schuster said. "We are going to be a balanced offense now."

Well, let's not get crazy. The Steelers were first in the NFL in passing attempts (659). They were 28th in rushing attempts (373).

So, "balanced"? Hmm. I'll settle for slightly less skewed and work from there.

Baby steps, JuJu. Baby steps.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.