Mark Madden: Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster needs lesson in being pro |
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Mark Madden
Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Shuster reacts with youth football player before practice Thursday, July 26, 2018 at Saint Vincent College.

As Ted Nugent said, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.”

I must be too old.

Or maybe it is too loud.

A report from Pittsburgh Steelers training camp said receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster ran the wrong route twice in a short time span, causing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to comment, “His mind isn’t right today.”

The next day, Smith-Schuster tweeted a photo of himself dancing before a multitude of fans at Saint Vincent. In the accompanying verbiage, Smith-Schuster proclaimed himself the “Most LIT player in NFL HISTORY”. It was accompanied by two fire emojis.

Perhaps Smith-Schuster was sidestepping flames when he ran the wrong routes.

It’s early in the preseason, to be sure. The Week 1 game at Cleveland is a month away.

But another story quoted Smith-Schuster telling teammates that football isn’t everything. The second-year receiver is smitten with his brand, video games and himself. Maybe that makes him a typical 21-year-old.

Which is to say, less dedicated than Sidney Crosby when he was 21. Or 18. Or 12, probably.

Smith-Schuster had a good season in 2017: 58 catches, 917 yards, seven touchdowns. He made the NFL’s all-rookie team.

But Smith-Schuster was held to 5 yards on three catches in the playoff loss to Jacksonville. He’s a proper complement to mega-talent Antonio Brown but not yet a star in his own right.

There’s room for improvement. Is Smith-Schuster truly dedicated to taking the next step?

I’m not sure. Nor am I sure where being LIT figures in, or exactly what being LIT means. It means “cool,” right?

I am old, don’t forget: 57, to be exact. (Ted Nugent is 69. Here we go, look out below…)

It seems like the idea of being professional doesn’t mean much anymore. But it should.

If, at 21, Smith-Schuster can’t grasp that concept, somebody should show him. In clear and direct fashion.

In the ’70s, any number of Steelers would have volunteered that guidance. But, certainly, times were different. For example, those Steelers didn’t often lose playoff games they were supposed to win.

The fraction of Steelers Nation that inhabits social media largely backs Smith-Schuster, his desire to have fun and his right to be LIT. Let’s see how long that lasts once Smith-Schuster drops a few crucial passes.

He might not. Smith-Schuster is a major talent.

But the Steelers haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2009 or been to a Super Bowl since 2011. It’s fair to say that, given their ability, the Steelers have underachieved since then. Remember, too, that Roethlisberger is the only Steeler left from that 2009 team.

We used to say the Steelers did things different and were more professional.

If that was ever true, it isn’t anymore. That description now applies to New England. The Patriots care more about winning than they care about being LIT.

The Steelers have leaders, notably Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey.

But there might be a shortage of followers.

When I opine that professionalism and winning should come before fun and “living life,” “being LIT,” etc., I get called an old man yelling at a cloud or at kids/dogs on my lawn. (I don’t have a lawn, BTW.) That’s fine, and perfectly understandable in the era of the participation trophy.

But I will not be moved on this issue. I bet Jack Lambert wouldn’t be, either.

On the flip side of that coin is Pittsburgh Pirates utilityman Sean Rodriguez.

Rodriguez can’t hit my IQ (166), let alone his weight (200).

But Rodriguez started 32 percent of the Pirates’ first 113 games under the guise of being a professional. No tangible qualities of much consequence, but he’s a pro. An inspiration to his teammates.

So the story goes, anyway. The reality: His batting average is .163. Not exactly soul-stirring or example-setting. On the record, his teammates credit him. In private, they wonder why he’s still on the roster. (He might not be much longer, now that the Pirates have acquired infielder Adeiny Hechavarria.)

Smith-Schuster has recent success on his side. But will that success multiply? (I’m talking football, not Fortnite.)

Antonio Brown has many moments of self-promotion and occasionally goes too far, as with Facebook Live in the locker room. But his work ethic, precision and production are above reproach. Except for a ring, Brown has proven himself in every way.

Brown has earned the right to be LIT.

Social media backs Smith-Schuster, probably because it’s largely populated by likewise dopey kids.

Old jerks like me just want results. We think fun is mostly had by winning. (We also believe you play like you practice. Maybe Allen Iverson’s famous interview put that concept in the grave.)

As Jerry “The King” Lawler once said, “With age comes wisdom. But sometimes you just get old.” (Lawler was paraphrasing Oscar Wilde. But Lawler is more LIT than Wilde, so I quoted him instead.)

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