JuJu looks ‘ready’ for any return from IR

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PITTSBURGH – Diontae Johnson was not quite sure what to do with JuJu Smith-Schuster in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room before training. For the first time in three months, Smith-Schuster was dressed and pulled in his cleats and pillows at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex training facility after the Steelers designated him to return from injured reserve on Thursday.

“We had no idea,” Johnson said after training. “I was surprised to see him in the locker room. I thought, ‘Yo, are you getting ready or something?’ Take these cleats on. I’m glad he’s back. If he gets a chance to play, I’ll be excited on his behalf when I see him do what he does, which is to do acting. I’m sure everyone misses him. his dances and everything out there. “

Smith-Schuster attended Thursday’s practice, and while coach Mike Tomlin was tight on the details of Smith-Schuster’s participation, Johnson gave an encouraging review.

“To me, it looked like he was ready,” Johnson said. “He has to ease back into things, but he looked smooth today.

“Big hands, natural catcher. Big hands, strong guy. Just watching him run around shows that he’s still JuJu at the end of the day. It’s exciting.”

The Steelers have 21 days to activate him for the active list, and Tomlin did not rule out the possibility that Smith-Schuster would play against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

“I do not know,” Tomlin said when asked if his wide receiver could play Sunday. “We just started the 21-day window. What’s going on out here and a lot of other questions is part of the equation.”

The team also activated wide receiver James Washington from the reserve / COVID-19 list, and coach Tomlin gave an update on running back Najee Harris (elbow) and said the rookie is scheduled to return to training on Friday. This turnout will be “telling” for Harris’ availability on Sunday.

Smith-Schuster has been on IR since Oct. 16 after suffering a shoulder injury against the Denver Broncos in Week 5 and underwent surgery later in the week.

After the surgery, Smith-Schuster wrote on social media that he would be out for the rest of the regular season, but when he spoke to ESPN last month, he acknowledged that there was a chance he could return in this season.

“The AFC Championship or the Super Bowl,” Smith-Schuster said on Dec. 7 when asked if and when he could return. “Either works for me.

“There is a percentage that I could possibly return and participate in [the AFC championship]. That’s where I’m right now. I retrain as much as possible every day, just trying to get after it. You just never know. “

At the time, Smith-Schuster set the percentage of him returning to 5%, but when the Steelers opened the training window, it looks like the odds are greater that he could play again this season.

“He has worked hard in rehabilitation and reached himself to this point,” Tomlin said. “We simply started the 21-day window. We want to look at him, see how he feels. Check his level of conditioning when people enter the 21-day window … Good to have him out here, but it is part of the process. “

Smith-Schuster, 25, has just 15 catches on 129 yards in his injury-shortened season. Since Smith-Schuster went out, Ray-Ray McCloud has filled his role as slot receiver and he has had 39 catches on 277 yards.

“He brings back the positive energy that he has always had, that he always brings,” Johnson said. “You want to bring back such a guy who’s about football, all about his teammates. Just do everything for the team. He’s also a human person. There’s never a dull moment when he’s around.”

Smith-Schuster is set to be a free agent again in the low season after returning to the Steelers on a one-year deal for the 2021 season. But he told ESPN that he does not rule out staying in Pittsburgh.

“Because I’ve already done it, I know how it feels,” Smith-Schuster told ESPN in December about free agency. “I think mentally I will do just fine. It’s a whole new market. There’s more money involved, more cap space available, especially the Steelers are one of the top teams. Right now we’re not talking to We want to let it play in March and February.

“The Steelers are still a top priority, but it all depends on how they move their pieces – who they bring in. Who is the future. They still have to pick guys, pay guys. It’s still a top priority.”

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