‘Interesting’ Development: Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster Returns to Practice

JuJu Smith-Schuster with James Washington

(Joe Sargent/Getty Images JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 celebrates a successful two-point conversion with James Washington #13 of the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 27, 2020.

On January 13 the Pittsburgh Steelers saw a pair of former second-round picks return to practice. Most notably, starting wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was back on the field for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury during the second quarter of Pittsburgh’s Week 5 game against the Denver Broncos. Multiple NFL reporters used the word “interesting” to describe this somewhat surprising development, including Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, who called the news an “interesting twist.” After all, the injury required surgery and was presumed to be season-ending.

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s Timeline for Returning From IR

For now, JuJu Smith-Schuster remains on the Reserve/Injured list and the team has 21 days in which to add him to the 53-man roster. It doesn’t seem likely that he would be able to return for Sunday’s Wildcard game against the Kansas City Chiefs, but perhaps he could come back later in the playoffs, assuming the Steelers find a way to get past the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

Mark Kaboly, who covers the Steelers for The Athletic, tweeted that Smith-Schuster “could be back for the Super Bowl,” which is no doubt a realistic timeline. But perhaps Kaboly is also being a little facetious considering that the Steelers are a double-digit underdog against the Chiefs, and would have to win three road games against higher seeded teams to reach the Big Game.

But it’s also possible that Smith-Schuster could return sooner. On December 7, the 25-year-old wideout told Brooke Pryor of ESPN that there was a chance he could be back for the AFC Championship game or the Super Bowl. “Either one works for me,” he said.

“There’s a percentage that I could possibly come back and participate in [the AFC championship],” he added. “That’s where I’m at right now. I’m rehabbing as much as possible every day, just trying to get after it. You just never know.”

Prior to getting hurt, Smith-Schuster had 15 catches for 129 yards and no receiving touchdowns. Primary kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud has been filling Smith-Schuster’s role, with increasing success. McCloud finished the regular season with 39 receptions for 277 yards.

Smith-Schuster is set to become an unrestricted free agent after his one-year, $8 million contract expires at the end of this season.

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Wide Receiver James Washington is Back Too

On Thursday wide receiver James Washington returned to practice as well, having been activated off the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Washington was sidelined on January 8 and did not play in the regular season finale against the Ravens.

Even with Smith-Schuster out of the lineup since October 10, Washington hasn’t provided the Steelers with the kind of production one would expect from a second-round pick in his fourth year in the league. In 15 regular season games he caught just 24 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Like Smith-Schuster, he is expected to test free agency this spring, as his rookie contract is expiring.

Washington was drafted No. 60 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma State. The 25-year-old has 114 career receptions for 1,629 yards and 11 touchdown catches.

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