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Steelers All 91: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

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All 91 is a Pittsburgh Steelers Now series profiling each of the 91 members of the Steelers 2019 training camp roster.

19 • JuJu Smith-Schuster, third-year wide receiver

Last year: After making seven starts as a rookie, Smith-Schuster secured a starting spot in 2018, making 13 starts and playing in all 16 games.

Stats: Grabbed 111 balls out of 166 targets for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. He led the Steelers in catches and yards. Smith-Schuster averaged 89.1 yards per game, which was seventh in the NFL.

Accolades, Highlights:

Named to his first Pro Bowl after the 2018 season as an alternate for teammate Antonio Brown. Received an 81.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, 16th amongst NFL receivers.

For the second consecutive season, he caught a 97-yard touchdown pass, the longest in the league.

Camp outlook: With the departure of Brown, there aren’t many players on the Steelers roster with a role as secure as Smith-Schuster’s. He will be the team’s No. 1 wide receiver if he’s healthy, and he has been reliable throughout his young career.

Projected role: The one thing that he will have to deal with this year is an increased number of double teams and other ways that opposing defenses are going to center their coverage around him, now that Brown is gone.

That probably won’t be replicated in training camp, but it’s worth watching for in the preseason games, even if many other teams probably won’t want to tip their hand about what type of situational defenses they’re going to run.

That will be the biggest difference between his first two seasons and the upcoming one, and how he adjusts to it will likely determine whether he’s a repeat Pro Bowler.

Coverage links:

JuJu Smith-Schuster Rated No. 47 in NFL Top 100

JuJu Smith-Schuster Signs Fan’s Head; Participates in Gender Reveal After Practice

Mic Drop: Who Will be the Second Receiver Option Behind JuJu?

JuJu Smith-Schuster Embracing Role as NFL Academy Ambassador in London

JuJu Smith-Schuster Continues Connection with Pirates Draft Pick Blake Sabol

JuJu Smith-Schuster Ready for No. 1 WR Role

JuJu Smith-Schuster Has ‘Lit’ Weekend Attending Prom, Handing Out Ketchup at Kennywood

3 Reasons JuJu Smith-Schuster Will Continue to Ascend in 2019

The rest of the 91:

Steelers

Steelers Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada on Run Game, Roethlisberger

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Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada has spoken publicly for the first time since his promotion in late January.

Canada joined the latest edition of The Standard, the Steelers’ behind-the-scenes web series, and discussed a number of topics, including fixing the run game, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his offensive philosophy.

There is no denying Pittsburgh produced the least successful rushing attack in football a season ago, averaging just 84.4 yards per game and 3.6 yards per attempt.

Canada recognizes the Steelers need to improve significantly on the ground, a mandate he implied came down from Team President Art Rooney II.

“He’s made it very clear that that’s got to get better,” Canada said. “When all of us realized that we didn’t get it done we wanted to with our running game and all of who are here are part of that. And we’ve got to improve upon it in a multitude of ways and we’re certainly focused on it. We’re globally studying who’s running the ball well. We’ve always believed in running the football anywhere that I’ve been. You win up front. I believe that. We believe that. I know Coach Tomlin believes that.”

Not only will the Steelers have to better impose their will in the trenches, but Canada knows they will also have to remove the predictability that plagued them last season, especially in the passing game.

“You have to be able to run the football when they know you’re going to run it,” Canada added. “And you have to be able to throw the football when they know you’re going to throw it.”

Canada also gushed over Roethlisberger, who the Steelers announced will be returning for the 2021 season on a one-year contract Thursday.

“He’s such a great competitor. He competes at everything he does and his competitive drive is so strong and so awesome to be around no matter what we’re doing,” Canada said of Roethlisberger.

He also praised the 39-year-old’s accuracy, which he believes sets Roethlisberger apart from his peers.

“And then just his accuracy. And I’ve said this to one of my buddies who’s a quarterback coach somewhere else. Young quarterbacks, I wish there was some way for them to be here and watch how he practices putting the ball in certain spots. It’s such a unique talent that he’s able to do it.”

While Roethlisberger’s new deal has provided the Steelers some much needed financial flexibility, they will still undoubtedly have some tough departures once free agency begins in earnest.

Regardless which players do or do not remain in Pittsburgh heading into the 2021 season, Canada insists his offense will be multi-dimensional and cater to whatever personnel the Steelers have on the offensive side.

“We are going through and looking at the foundation of our offense. And building an offense that will be conducive to whatever talent that we have,” Canada said. “I don’t believe you have a certain system that works and this is all we’re going to do and we have to have the players for that. We have the players we have each year. Our job is to score more points than the team we play on each Sunday.”

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Steelers Sign Center J.C. Hassenauer on One-Year Deal

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The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed center J.C. Hassenauer to a one-year deal, first reported by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

An exclusive right free agent, Hassenauer was almost a lock to return to Pittsburgh in 2021. His new deal with the Steelers is worth $780,000.

Hassenauer proved a vital piece along the Steelers’ offensive line a season ago, seeing action in 15 games and making four starts. He was on the field for 23% of the team’s offensive stats, while also appearing on 50 special teams plays.

Prior to Pittsburgh, Hassenauer signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2018, spending the first seven weeks of the season on their practice squad.

He played for the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football in 2019.

Hassenauer played his college ball at Alabama. He made just three career starts for the Crimson Tide, with his final coming in the 2018 College Football Playoff national championship game, a 26-23 overtime win over Georgia.

Hassenauer’s agent Blake Baratz confirmed the signing on Twitter on Thursday.

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Steelers Estimated $3.6m Under Salary Cap after New Contract for Ben Roethlisberger

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The Steelers have are salary cap compliant and have an estimated $3.6 million in breathing room after renegotiating the contract of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Thursday, according to contract figures reported by NFL Network, salary cap data from OverTheCap.com and Steelers Now analysis.

Roethlisberger’s contract, which is technically a five-year deal, but will last only through the 2021 season before being voided will save the team $15.3 million under the 2021 salary cap.

Though the Steelers are finally in the black with regards to the 2021 salary cap, they will still likely need to make additional moves to shore up extra salary cap space. The team will need over $8 million in space to sign its 2021 NFL Draft class, the final two players for the 53-man roster and a practice squad. Only the top 51 contracts count toward the cap in the offseason.

The Steelers’ estimated $3.6 million in cap space is based on a $180 million salary cap, which is based on Steelers Now sources on several national reports. The final salary cap figure for 2021 has not yet been made official.

The team has a three contracts that can be restructured, those of defensive end Stephon Tuitt, kicker Chris Boswell and fullback Derek Watt, that could save the team around another $6 million.

The contracts of guard David DeCastro and cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson could also be extended or re-negotiated. All are entering the final season of their contract.

The Steelers have two dozen pending free agents, including starters Tyson Alualu, Zach Banner, Jordan Berry, James Conner, Bud Dupree, Matt Feiler, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Alejandro Villanueva and key reserves Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton. 

Starting center J.C. Hassenauer and backup inside linebackers Marcus Allen and Robert Spillane are exclusive rights free agents. Backup outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi and wide receiver and kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud are restricted free agents.

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