As the Steelers process their latest play-down-to-the-level-of-inferior-competition-but-still-win evening in Cincinnati, they now have to hold their breath regarding the possibility that one of their best young players won’t be available on Sunday night against Baltimore.
Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s devastating blindside helmet-to-jaw hit on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict puts Smith-Schuster in line to potentially be the next NFL player suspended in a season that has featured more than a few of them. From Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan to Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch to Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans to Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree and Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to probably another one or two that I’m forgetting because there have been so many of them this year, Smith-Schuster could be the next name added to the list.
Unlike the Gronkowski hit on Tre'Davious White, Smith-Schuster’s actions occurred within the normal confines of a play. But so did Trevathan’s, and that didn’t keep him from being suspended.
The biggest difference between Trevathan and Smith-Schuster is that Davante Adams ended up in the hospital, and Vontaze Burfict didn’t. But the ultimate outcome of the illegal hit shouldn’t dictate the punishment; if the goal is to ensure that players avoid engaging in dangerous activities on the field, the dangerous activities, not the outcome, should drive the consequence.
It’s a shared responsibility of players and coaches. And it will be interesting to hear whether the Pittsburgh coaches ultimately praise or condemn Smith-Schuster for the hit. For now, coach Mike Tomlin has publicly chastised Smith-Schuster only for standing over Burfict after the hit, and not for the hit itself.
Six years ago, former Steelers safety Ryan Clark claimed that a hit that triggered a $40,000 fine drew praise from Tomlin in the film room. Hopefully, those mixed messages no longer are being sent by Tomlin.
Hopefully, mixed messages will no longer be sent by the league office, either.