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James Washington needs to step up with JuJu Smith-Schuster out for the season

(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

JuJu Smith-Schuster bet on himself by re-signing with the Steelers on a one-year deal, and he's now out for the season with a dislocated shoulder just five games in. It's a really tough break for Smith-Schuster, especially considering this was another contract year for him.

In five games, Smith-Schuster had 15 receptions for 129 yards (8.6 average) and no touchdowns. However, Smith-Schuster did have a rushing touchdown off a jet sweep against the Raiders in Week 2.

Sunday could have been Smith-Schuster's last game as a Steeler, depending on what happens this offseason.

During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin expressed his appreciation for Smith-Schuster and said it will be a committee of receivers who replace his production.

"I'm sorry for JuJu. I'm appreciative of him – the spirit that he brings, the effort that he brings, the quality of his play. But that's what makes football the ultimate team game," Tomlin said. "We'll be calling on a number of people to bridge the gap in the short and the long term in terms of bringing what he provides. When you're talking about losing a guy like JuJu and how he functions within the framework of our offense, usually you're talking about multiple people assuming his role in some form or fashion, particularly in the short term."

James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud, Cody White, and the newly signed Anthony Miller to the practice squad, could be the receivers stepping up in the absence of Smith-Schuster. Miller was drafted in the second round by the Bears in 2018, and was traded to the Texans before the season. However, Miller was released by Houston after playing in two games. He has 139 career catches for 1,587 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career.

"However unfortunate the injury is for JuJu," Tomlin said, "it does provide an opportunity for James to expand his role and to do some things that we all know he's capable of doing. It provides an opportunity for Ray-Ray McCloud to expand his role and continue to develop as a receiver and get more opportunities in that space. Ray-Ray carved out a niche for himself as a return man, but that's his day job and he's been working to develop as a receiver and has done a great job of doing so. These opportunities are big opportunities for men like those two. It's also a big opportunity for a guy like Cody White, who has been fighting and scrapping to lay a foundation for what he hopes would be a good career for him. And he's had a window because of lack of availability of others."

Tomlin denied that Washington requested a trade during training camp and the preseason. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that Washington did ask for a trade over a lack of playing time. "James is a quality dude and a quality teammate... I have a lot of respect for the man," Tomlin said on Tuesday.

With Smith-Schuster sidelined, this would be a perfect opportunity for Washington to showcase his talents and worth.

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