JuJu Smith-Schuster disappointed Steelers fans in 2019, catching 42 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns while appearing in 12 games. All of those numbers there? Yeah, each one marks a career low for Smith-Schuster.
And he's not happy about it, either.
"Man, I'm training with a trainer, Corey Calliet, it's a one-on-one session, but he trained like Michael Jordan and a lot of other guys," Smith-Schuster was telling Pat McAfee on Thursday. "Just getting lean, losing weight, cutting up, getting faster, working on my routes and stuff like that. Just trying to get to that next level."
He hasn't been shy about showing off some of the early results on Instagram, either:
— JuJu’s Bike ⓳ (@JuJusBike_) January 29, 2020
In a hilarious, totally-Pittsburgh twist, some fans are still criticizing Smith-Schuster for these workout posts. Just do the work. You don't need to film it all, right?
Yeah, Smith-Schuster hears all that, too.
"Oh, for sure, man," Smith-Schuster responded when McAfee asked him if he hears it from "dumb Yinzers" when he underperforms. "When you don't perform at the highest level and have high expectations, the first thing you hear about is like, 'Oh, he's playing too [many] video games. Oh, he's doing too much branding stuff, too many sponsors, doing too much off the field.' And I think that's how it was.
"But for myself, I just stayed focused. I blocked out the noise. Those are the things that I knew were going to come with it, me hearing all that. It was a tough season, you know? The situation we had with different quarterbacks. Me having my own personal injury to my knee and stuff."
For Smith-Schuster, it's all about relying on past hardships and using those as building blocks to continue to grow, both on and off the field.
"I think my mental is very, very tough," he said. "With myself, man, it's all about ... I didn't have any of this and I'm grateful for all of this and I'm humble. All I can do is just go up from here."
Beyond his personal play and progression, Smith-Schuster and McAfee also discussed the strained relationship with Antonio Brown, who has publicly criticized Smith-Schuster via social media.
"It kind of came out of nowhere," Smith-Schuster said of Brown's vitriol. "It came out of left field. I did not expect to see any of this. You know, playing with Antonio Brown my first couple years, we always talked about being great and dominating. And that's what we did. The last time we played with each other, we both had over 1,000 yards and 100 catches and what's going on right now off the field, social media-wise, it's pretty, pretty crazy. I did not expect [any] of this.
"We were kind of, like, hand-for-hand. Let's both be great. Let's both do this. Let's both reach our goal. And then the situation, what happened with him and with the Steelers, it sucked. Tough situation."
McAfee then turned the conversation to Ben Roethlisberger, who appeared in just two games for the Steelers in 2019 before going down with an elbow injury that required surgery.
"So my relationship with Ben is amazing. It's actually pretty awesome," Smith-Schuster said. "My first year was kind of tough because, you know, he doesn't like all rookies. Especially wide receivers. I guess when you play with a guy that's been in the league 15 years plus, I had to work toward that, prove [that] I can play with him. And that's what I did. So our relationship's great. This past season, he's been hurt, been injured since Week 2. He's been around, actually. He's been traveling, he's been in the office, he's been helping us out. He's just one of those guys, man, that just wants the best for the team."
Personally, I think Steelers fans should be encouraged by Smith-Schuster's actions and words throughout the segment. To be fair, his trainer is posting the majority of the clips, then social media's sharing them, so it's not exactly like Smith-Schuster is going full "Look at me!" mode with the workout videos.
That said, there's no doubt he's continuing to build his brand in an effort to set himself up for life after football. That's just ... smart. And still, I fully understand the "I'll believe it when I see it" segment of fans. Smith-Schuster absolutely disappointed in 2019, but with the return of Roethlisberger and with the emergence of Diontae Johnson and James Washington, 2020 could prove a very different year for the young receiver.
Watch Thursday's Pat McAfee Show in full right here:
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