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JuJu Smith-Schuster Ready for No. 1 WR Role

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PITTSBURGH — Whether he’s ready or not, third-year Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will enter the 2019 season as the team’s top receiving option following the trade of former All-Pro Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders this offseason.

One of the things that made the trade so palatable for the Steelers, which received just a third and sixth-round draft picks while having to eat a $21.1 million dead-weight salary cap hit, was the play of Smith-Schuster, who emerged in 2018 as the type of all-around receiving threat that the Steelers feel they can build around.

In fact, one could make a pretty good argument that Smith-Schsuter was already the team’s No. 1 receiver, despite Brown’s larger fame and greater run of success. Smith-Schuster caught 111 balls in 2018, while Brown caught 104.

On the first day of the Steelers OTAs on Tuesday, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger expressed his faith in Smith-Schuster’s ability to be the team’s top target, saying “I think he’s ready, but you have to ask him.”

Smith-Schuster said on Wednesday that he doesn’t think who the team’s No. 1 receiver is makes much difference, but that he’s ready for an increased role.

“It’s not about the No. 1 guy,” he said. “Yes, you have No. 1 quarterback, running back, but at the end of the day, it’s a collective game. The only way you move the ball is if all 11 make plays and do their job. That’s what it’s going to take to win the Super Bowl.”

One of the jobs of a team’s top receiver is to deal with an increased amount of attention from opposing defenses. One of the reasons Smith-Schuster was able to thrive in 2018 was that many teams double-covered Brown, leaving the rest of the field with less help.

“No doubt,” Smith-Schuster said. “We felt it last year, playing against the Patriots. They doubled me and AB. It was nothing new. This year, it’s just going to be the same thing from the beginning, the same coverage and doubling. We’ve got guys like (Donte) Moncrief, James (Washington), we drafted a new wide receiver, Diontae (Johnson). I’m not worried about that.”

Despite still only being 22 — the same age as rookie addition Johnson — he’ll also expected to be a leader of the team’s receivers room. That’s something he’s looking forward to.

“With the experience I’ve played, at this point, age is just a number. I’ve played enough games under my belt, where I’m able to take on this,” he said. “I like to have a little voice. Being a young guy in the room, being 22, I feel like I’m like my dog — a French Bulldog, just barking at everybody.”

But he doesn’t feel the need to go outside his own personality to get that job done.

“I’m already vocal,” he said. “I’m just a vocal person in general. That’s just how I am. There’s no need for me to go out of my way and yell at the guys. We’re all adults. We all know what’s right from wrong. Everyone just works. Everyone has a voice in the room, it’s not just mine.

Steelers

Steelers to Host ex-Vikings OT Aviante Collins for Visit

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The Steelers will host free agent tackle Aviante Collins for a visit, according to the NFL transactions page for Thursday.

Collins, 27, spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of TCU in 2017.

Collins played in three games in 2017 and two in 2019 for the Vikings, and spent all of the 2020 season on the practice squad, except for a one-week elevation in Week 11, in which he did not play.

The 6-foot-4, 292-pound tackle its a free agent after the Vikings decided to allow his practice squad contract to expire at the end of the season.

The Steelers have several free agents at the tackle position, including longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, 2019 starting right tackle Matt Feiler and 2020 starting right tackle Zach Banner, who are unrestricted free agents, and backup Jerald Hawkins, who is a restricted free agent.

The Steelers have Chukwuma Okorafor under contract and Anthony Coyle, Jarron Jones, John Leglue and Brandon Walton signed to futures contract.

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Steelers, Zach Banner Donate to Tree of Life Synagogue

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Offensive lineman Zach Banner and the Pittsburgh Steelers have pledged a donation to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill as part of the Steelers 2020 Social Justice Grant program.

The congregation was attacked during a mass shooting own Oct. 27, 2018 that killed 11 people and wounded six others, the deadliest attack ever on a Jewish community in the United States.

The shooting stuck with Banner, who was a rookie on the team at the time. After Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson made an anti-semitic post on social media, Banner responded with a video post.

“We need to understand that Jewish people deal with the same amount of hate and similar hardships and hard times,” Banner said in the video. “I want to preach to the Black and brown community that we need to uplift them and put our arms around them just as much when we talk about Black Lives Matter and talk about elevating ourselves.”

The video led to Banner becoming something of a fan favorite to the Jewish community.

“Mr. Banner spoke up when others didn’t and we appreciate that,” Barb Feige, executive director of Tree of Life, said to Steelers.com “The fact that he mentioned Tree of Life and the horrific shooting that happened there and how much it impacted him was very meaningful. We are very aware the shooting had an impact beyond our congregation, our Jewish community. The ripple effect was felt. Everybody felt something about it. For Mr. Banner to articulate that, and join our fight against anti-Semitism, was very, very special, very meaningful.”

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Report: Steelers to Interview Los Angeles Chargers QB Coach Pep Hamilton

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The Steelers have requested to interview Los Angeles Chargers quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton for their vacant offensive coordinator position, according to a report by Josina Anderson.

Hamilton, 46, just finished his first season as quarterbacks coach with the Chargers, where he helped develop rookie quarterback Justin Hebert, who was named the PFWA NFL Rookie of the Year.

Hamilton has previously been an offensive coordinator at the NFL level with the Indianapolis Colts from 2013-15, where he led a resurgence around quarterback Andrew Luck.

Hamilton was the head coach of the DC Defenders of the XFL in 2020, the assistant head coach and passing game coordinator for Michigan in 2017-18 and was assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2016. He has also been an NFL assistant with the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears.

Hamilton is the third person confirmed to have interviewed for the position, along with former Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson and Steelers quarterbacks coach Matt Canada, who is expected to earn the position.

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