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Mark Kaboly: 'There has been limited-to-no outside work by Smith-Schuster since pads have gone on'

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

JuJu Smith-Schuster has talked all offseason about wanting to play more on the outside this season compared to in the slot, where he played at nearly 80 percent of the time last year.

However, early on in training camp, Smith-Schuster is reportedly still lining up predominantly in the slot, according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic.

"Smith-Schuster was lobbying for more outside work in the passing game during the summer, and Canada said he listened. Listening and doing are separate entities," Kaboly wrote. "There has been limited-to-no outside work by Smith-Schuster since pads have gone on, except for individual goal-line work. Maybe that changes as we get deeper into camp, but considering the roles of the receivers seem defined, with Chase Claypool outside, Diontae Johnson moving around and James Washington another outside option, Smith-Schuster appears to be left to the slot, where he has been very good.

As Kaboly mentions, it's still really early on in training camp, so things could change. But the Steelers have so many talented wide receivers that Smith-Schuster might find himself in the same role as last year. If that's the case, hopefully his yards per target are improved dramatically, as his route chart last season was a mess.

It wasn't a bad season for Smith-Schuster in 2020, as he led the team in receptions with 97 and had nine touchdowns, but he averaged just 8.6 yards per catch, which ranked 126th in the league.

However, a lot of it had to do with former offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner's dink-and-dunk offense, so hopefully with Matt Canada as the offensive coordinator now, Smith-Schuster will be better utilized. We're talking about a wide receiver who has two 97-yard touchdown receptions in his career. He shouldn't be averaging 8.6 yards per catch.

According to Next Gen Stats, Smith-Schuster ran the shortest routes of any wide receiver last season (minimum 300 routes), with an average route depth of 8.3 yards. As a result, Smith-Schuster relied on yards after the catch to gain yardage -- 51.3% of his yards came after the catch, which was fourth among wide receivers, minimum of 75 targets.


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