Steelers Could Hope To Find Some Tight End JuJu Out Of Slot Position

It was believed at the time that the Pittsburgh Steelers signed tight end Ladarius Green last offseason, it was a move made at least in part as a response to the foreknowledge that wide receiver Martavis Bryant was going to be suspended for the season.

It goes without saying that that plan didn’t work out all too well, given that he was only able to participate in six games during the regular season in between an ankle injury and a concussion, and now, not much more than a year after he first signed, he is now a free agent after the team released him with a failed physical.

Bryant is now back, but his real ‘replacement’ in the offense might actually be rookie second-round wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has a lot of intriguing qualities for a player that is widely anticipated to be finding a good deal of his work in the slot, which is where many of Green’s snaps were taken.

It has already been hinted at a couple of times over the course of the past couple of days, but I believe the topic entitles its own article. If the Steelers do hope to take advantage of Smith-Schuster’s abilities to emulate some tight-end duties, however, I believe that it is one that they will have to commit to.

Not long after the draft, offensive coordinator Todd Haley talked about how he didn’t want to throw a player into a position in which he would be asked to play multiple roles so quickly. So the Steelers would have to earmark him for work in the slot, I believe, and allow him to build his game there over the course of the offseason.

That would give him his best opportunity to open the season as a starter in that role, where he can serve as a more dynamic presence than Eli Rogers. Smith-Schuster not only the size and ability, but also the demeanor to be a physical presence out of the slot that is going to have to be accounted for by opposing offenses.

He is not only a player who knows how to use his size to his advantage to box out defenders and the will to win combative targets, he is also eager to have the opportunity to throw a block, and if he is able to win the slot job, I would expect that we will see a more physical presence there than we have seen in a while.

He might not exactly be a tight end, but at 6’1”, 215 pounds, he is going to be a player who will have to be accounted for in many of the same ways that a more mobile tight end would. He may not have his hand in the dirt as an in-line blocker, but if he gets on the field, he should draw many other assignments that bear a resemblance to the position, and he will bring the physical demeanor to all of it.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • gwill

    Can Sammie Coates play tight end position he’s bigger and stronger

  • Beeze

    Now that Green is gone, why not try a novel approach. Use Hubbard as your single “TE” and put AB, Bryant, and JuJu along with Bell on the field as your skill guys. If the defense plays nickel, Ben goes with the run and I like our OL plus Hubbard against their 6 run defenders. If the D plays four DB’s, like our passing game to exploit mismatches against that alignment.
    Thoughts from others?

  • ManRayX

    One can hope that as to Saul of Tarsus, so to Mike Tomlin a sudden blinding light will come. . .the scales will fall from his eyes and JuJu will be employed as you, Matthew, describe.

  • ilamarca

    If the Steelers did in fact have a good idea of Greens status before the draft I wonder if anything was thrown in the draft room when the Browns traded up and took Njoku one spot ahead.

    OLB is the bigger need but would be interesting to know who they took if Watt and Njoku were on the board, and they knew Green wouldn’t be back.

  • VaDave

    Granted it was a different era, but Randy Grossman was 6’1″ and 218 lbs. and did pretty well.

  • I’m also excited over what Juju might offer. However, the problem with him possibly stressing defenses as might a ‘move’ TE concerns the content of a recent [and excellent] Steelers Depot post, e.g., whether a defense employs its base, nickle, or dime packages to counter offensive personnel. Juju in the slot would presumably draw a slot CB [no mismatch] for coverage whereas a big, fast ‘move’ TE would be covered by an LB or safety [mismatch either way].

  • AustinTxStillerFan

    Or kick Hubbard into tackle and make AV tackle eligible. He can catch and is huge, so in short yardage, that is not a stretch to think you could throw to him for a first down. I mean , the guy is what 87 feet tall?

  • capehouse

    I just don’t think it’s very smart to have JuJu concentrate on the slot when we have a proven guy there already. Most label Eli as a poor YAC receiver but 4.5 yards/rec is respectable. Better than AB. His 72.7% catch percentage proves he’s reliable too, and was only 2nd to Bell’s 79.8%. I like JuJu, but I still think the Steelers screwed this one up royally. We have 4 starter-capable WRs and 1 TE that’s pretty average. First time the Steelers try and run 4 WRs I guarantee Ben’s in the hospital that night. My prediction is that JuJu is on the bench at least until mid-season and David Johnson gets more snaps than he does. Yuck!

  • Matthew Marczi

    I don’t think so. Barnidge probably wouldn’t cost more than $2 million or so at this point, I think, and they banked more than that with Green’s release, so I would think at worst it would be a wash.

  • Matthew Marczi

    You’re on the honor system to bring up this post in September or October should you be proven wrong. Deal? Of course, feel free to bring it up if you’re right as well.

  • Shane Mitchell

    The problem with using an olineman as a TE is you are freeing up the SS to blitz and roam all over the field, because Hubbard is no threat to catch a pass the safety doesnt have to make a read on him at the snap. Unless he is run blocking, it is almost like playing with 10 men on the field, the threat of a real TE to release and run a route is what keeps that safety honest.

  • johnhoien

    Bryant will have to be accounted for deep.. This will open up the underneath stuff for a guy like JuJu.. Most definitely the middle of the field will be open for AB.. This is what I’m most excited about..Bryant’s home run threat makes AB twice the receiver he already is and can even make a guy like Jesse James look all pro.. He just opens it all up.. Oh yeah & how about Bell getting the shuffle pass with the safeties 40 yards down field? Someone say explosive please.. Todd Haley &Ben are more excited about Bryant’s return then they are letting on…..EXPLOSIVE. I’d be disappointed with anything less than that..

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Martavis might actually be more physically suited for this idea but he’d probably be apoplectic if asked to sacrifice personal stats for the good of the team.

  • Beeze

    Not sure that many Defensive Coordinators want to face AB and Bryant 1 on 1 if they blitz the SS. That is the beauty of this idea. The defense can double AB and leave Bryant in man coverage (or single AB and have someone over the top on Bryant) or bring more DB’s on the field and open themselves up to being gashed by Bell.
    Neither option should be that attractive to them.
    Ben just needs to read simple keys and exploit the mismatch on each play.

  • gdeuce

    in your scenario of when we run 4 WRs, did the entire line from last year just fall down?

  • walter

    Yep. Thomas Henderson called him a midget and said “he only plays when someone dies or breaks a leg.” But when Bennie Cunningham blew his knee out, Randy Grossman did well.

  • Sam Clonch

    This article sounds like $100 to me!

  • walter

    That would be interesting to look back on old posts made by different people. Thats what they do with politicians lol.

  • walter

    we said all these same things last year

  • Mark

    No TE, Nix at FB with Bell in the I formation. 3 WR (AB, MB, and JuJu). We can run right or left keeping defenses off balanced. Forcing defenses to keep a safety in the box and opening the passing game.

  • Lil Smitty

    I could see JuJu being used on routes that cover more than ten yards down the field and in the center or some variation. He could also be affective if he would be used to block the safeties that are five yards off the ball on running plays. Getting a blocks like that could give Bell another five or ten yards per carry.
    I know this won’t be a popular opinion, but I don’t see much difference between JuJu and many of the highly rated “Move TEs” in the draft. Many of them were not blockers and had no clue. The only TE that I thought would really make a difference was Howard out of Alabama. The others were either slightly heavier and slower than JuJu with no history of blocking acumen, or another version of Jesse James.
    We will know by the second preseason play if this will happen.

  • Gautama Om

    Yo, pass the brong, bro.

  • Rob H

    I’m expecting JuJu to be used in a role as a much more athletic version of Jerricho Cotchery the year he caught 10 TD’s, made numerous big third down plays, and was a physical presence blocking for the run/reverse game.
    He has the ability to run routes anywhere on the field, including ones similar to what a speed TE like Green would run.
    I think you’ll see Haley use a large amount of 3 and 4 receiver sets, which should not only work well in the passing game, but also allow Bell and Connor room to run against smaller dime and nickel defensive schemes.
    I doubt they will throw too much at JuJu early on, but he is already working with AB before OTA’s even start, so I expect him to pick things up fairly quickly for a rookie WR. Although I think he’ll start the season behind Rogers on the depth chart, it won’t be too long before he ends up getting more snaps, simply because of the various elements he can bring that Eli just can’t do physically.

  • CP72

    Kudos on the Randy Grossman reference!!

  • Aj Gentile

    If that’s the plan then he was worth a 2nd round pick.

  • Dirque Leyr

    I find it weird that people assume the Defense package is based on the label and not the player. I mean, nothing about Green would make me assume he was going to be blocking if he was on the field. I would treat him as a Wide Receiver because that is what he will almost always be used as.

  • capehouse

    Oh right, and I’m sure you write new articles about when you’re wrong too.

  • capehouse

    David Johnson got 258 snaps last year and that’s when he was the 3rd TE. He’s the clear #2 this year with Green being cut. If Eli holds onto the starting slot position until at least mid season I think there’s a good chance the #2 TE will have more snaps than the #4 WR. Pretty simple math if you look back at the snap counts from the last few years.

  • capehouse

    NFL teams run 4 WRs formations around 1% of the time. Why such low numbers? Because it gets your QB killed. So yeah.

  • VaDave

    “he only plays when someone dies or breaks a leg.” I felt the same way about Ramon Foster’s first couple of years. It’s good to be wrong!

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’m sure I have. I don’t have a problem with being held accountable for when I get things wrong. You can’t write 5-8 articles a day every day with a readership in the thousands, many of whom are vocal, and not expect to be fact-checked regularly. On the whole, however, I try to avoid stating things authoritatively that are not clear matters of fact because I understand that I can be wrong or things can change.

  • capehouse

    Well I think it’s a good bet that if David Johnson remains TE 2 to start week 1 he’ll have more snaps than JuJu week 1 and probably to mid season because I think Eli in year 3 will not be pushed out of the slot very easily by a 19 year old kid no matter how talented he is.