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From Sammie Coates to Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster Has Been Ready

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When Antonio Brown was traded, JuJu Smith-Schuster was quick to respond to the call for Pittsburgh Steelers fans. JuJu Smith-Schuster told fans nothing more than that he is ready. Ready to take on the duties of the best receiver on a team that once had the best wide receiver in the league. Of course, the challenge has not been something new for JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was has climbed rung-by-rung to the top of the Steelers wide receiver totem pole.

Remember when he was drafted and Martavis Bryant reminded us all that he was Sammie Coates replacements, and not his? Well, the first part was correct, he was Sammie Coates replacement, and while Coates laughed it off at the moment, the team traded him that offseason.

When JuJu Smith-Schuster entered camp as a rookie there were legitimate questions as to who would win a camp battle between him and Eli Rogers.

Smith-Schuster dealt with a knee injury late into the preseason and barely contributed in the first two weeks. Still, by Week Four of his rookie season, he not only got full reign over Rogers, but there were also legitimate questions as to whether or not JuJu Smith-Schuster had replaced Martavis Bryant as the Steelers second wide receiver.

Smith-Schuster slowly took over that job in the next three weeks and by week eight of his rookie season, Martavis Bryant was suspended for calling out Smith-Schuster on Instagram because the rookie was outproducing him over a six-week span.

For Bryant, it was a chance to prove that he was a needed piece of the offense. His deep presence across from Antonio Brown took all the coverage away from Smith-Schuster, right? Who could take the top off when all the coverage moves to Brown? Then Smith-Schuster took the top off himself with the longest completion of Ben Roethlisberger’s career-a 97-yard game-changing touchdown.

By the end of his rookie season, Smith-Schuster had gone from a hopeful candidate to replace Sammie Coates and a potential Eli Rogers upgrade to a full-fledged upgrade from Martavis Bryant. Nobody saw that coming.

That is a significant leap for a rookie who just turned 21 years old. A step back in his sophomore year with Bryant being completely replaced by rookie James Washington had to be expected, right? Nope, instead JuJu Smith-Schuster kept climbing.

In 2018 Smith-Schuster caught 111 passes for 1,426 yards. Antonio Brown caught 104 passes for 1,297 yards.

Just like in 2017 when many said that Martavis Bryant was opening up the chance to get stats for Smith-Schuster, the same are proclaiming that Smith-Schuster only saw his meteoric rise in 2018 because of Antonio Brown and the attention he took. Heck, those same people were questioning if he could outproduce Eli Rogers as a rookie.

They were fair questions at the time and look silly in retrospect. At what point does it become apparent Smith-Schuster is progressing at an extreme rate and it has his peers scrambling? Are we going to ask the same questions about him replacing Brown that we asked about him replacing Bryant? Rogers? Coates?

JuJu Smith-Schuster passed Sammie Coates before training camp of his rookie season. Eli Rogers was not far behind. He passed Martavis Bryant by Week Four of that year. He even outproduced Antonio Brown by his second year in the NFL. Now, he is 22 years old and has the keys to the car.

Will it be tougher without Antonio Brown? Undoubtedly. Are you really not expecting JuJu Smith-Schuster live up to expectations and exceed them? If he did not it would be a first.

Steelers Now analyst. IUP Alum. Pittsburgh native. Steelers and Pirates critic, Penguins homer. Covers NFL. Follows NFL, NCAAB, NBA, MLB, and NHL. Writes about the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, and other relevant NFL news.

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NFL Announces Coaches can Return to Team Facilities

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has announced that coaching staffs may return to team facilities Friday, June 5 in a memo issued to teams Thursday morning.

Staying consistent with their message throughout the reopening process, coaches may return only if clubs have “received necessary permission from state and local governments.”

Clubs were informed last week that coaches will count towards the maximum number of employees permitted in facilities, but the total number allowed will increase from 75 to 100 tomorrow as well.

While Goodell has not yet announced when all players will be cleared to return, he did add that the league is still working “with clubs medical staffs to implement a program of COVID-19 testing” prior to players coming back.

Injured and rehabbing players were some of the first who received the green light to return to team facilities, and have been back for a few weeks now.

Club facilities were initially closed by the league back on March 25 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While coaches are likely eager to return to their team facilities, they should make themselves comfortable for the long haul.

Goodell’s memo comes a day after multiple reports that the league informed franchises they must conduct training camp from their practice facilities this August.

This would mean the Steelers will be prepping for the season on the South Side, instead of making a 55th-consecutive trip to St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

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Roger Goodell Continues NFL Reopening; Expects Coaches in Facilities Next Week

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has announced the next phase of league reopenings in a memo to teams Thursday.

Starting Monday, June 1, clubs will be permitted to reopen box offices, retail shops and other “customer-facing” locations “as long as the operation of such facilities fully complies with state and local regulation.”

Employees working in these newly opened location will count towards the limit per team set by the league. Clubs are permitted 50 percent of their normal staff, and cannot exceed 75 employees in facilities.

Rehabbing players will continue to be allowed access to team facilities, but healthy players and coaches are still not in the clear to return. Goodell added that the expectation is that coaching staffs can come back to facilities next week.

“We are actively working with Governors and other state and local authorities in those states that have not yet definitive plans and will confirm the precise date on which coaches can return to the facility as soon as possible,” Goodell said.

Coaches have been barred from team facilities in an attempt to ensure competitive equity around the league, considering different states are at different stages in their respective reopening processes.

Goodell added that the league is working alongside the NFLPA to develop protocols that would allow players to return to club facilities in a limited fashion.

The first phase of reopening began on May 19, and it appears to have been successful thus far.

“Clubs that have reopened their facilities have done so in a safe and effective way,” Goodell said.

The league is utilizing three different criteria as it continues with its reopening plan: state and local regulations must be followed, reopening must be consistent with protocols created by NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills and competitive fairness must be a priority throughout the process.

The NFL has not yet made announcements regarding training camps, or if games will be played without fans during the 2020 season.

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NFL Adds to League Officiating Department; Alberto Riveron Remains Top Replay Official

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The NFL has drastically altered the structure of its officiating office, but Alberto Riveron will remain the man in charge of league replay reviews.

The league announced on Thursday that longtime referee Walt Anderson and former NFL coach Perry Fewell have joined the NFL officiating department.

Fewell, 57, will oversee the officiating department, including communications with head coaches and general mangers, and be the league’s liaison to the NFL Referee Association and the NCAA.

He joins the league office after last serving as the Carolina Panthers’ interim head coach in 2019. He was also interim head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2009. Fewell was the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills from 2006-09 and New York Giants from 2010-14 and was a defensive backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars (1998-02 and 2017-18), the St. Louis Rams (20030-04), Chicago Bears (2005), Washington Redskins (2015-16) and Carolina Panthers (2019). Fewell also worked as a collegiate assistant at North Carolina, Army, Kent State and Vanderbilt.

Anderson, 67, spent 24 years as an NFL official and the last 17 seasons as a referee before moving into the league office as senior vice president of officiating training and development, where one will oversee game officials, their development, training, education, recruitment and more.

That will leave less on the able other than his role as the league’s lead replay official, a role he will return to for his eighth season.

Each of Anderson, Fewell and Riveron will report directly to NFL executive vice president of of football operations Troy Vincent.

“Our intentions are to implement meaningful improvements to the game and officiating,” Vincent said in a press release. “We will continue to make every effort to improve officiating and pursue officiating excellence.”

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