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.