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JuJu Smith-Schuster embraces Steelers' rich connection with USC

PITTSBURGH -- JuJu Smith-Schuster didn't have to look far to understand what a USC great can do in a black-and-gold uniform.

He saw an example every week in Lynn Swann, Smith-Schuster's athletic director at USC.

Conversely, Swann didn't need to pep-talk Smith-Schuster -- the Pittsburgh Steelers' second-round pick in the 2017 draft -- to know he's eager to wear the Trojan name proud in Pittsburgh.

"I will do anything possible to bring the Steelers back to the Super Bowl, whether that’s on special teams, being a backup or a role player, anything that it takes," Smith-Schuster said.

The Steelers have drafted 14 USC Trojans in the franchise's history, but two outshine the rest. Swann, the 21st overall pick in 1974, became one of the NFL's most graceful receivers on the way to the Hall of Fame. Troy Polamalu will get his gold blazer fitted, too. The Steelers traded up to No. 16 overall in 2003 to get Polamalu and didn't regret it. He's one of the fiercest defensive backs in Steelers history.

Expecting Smith-Schuster, the 62nd overall pick, to instantly match the credibility of those two players is a bit unfair. But Smith-Schuster isn't exactly hiding from expectations, either. His social media is filled with artsy pictures of Smith-Schuster in a Steelers No. 9 jersey, and post-draft he's been working out with first-round cornerback Adoree Jackson, one of Smith-Schuster's running mates with last year's USC squad.

While appearing in ESPN's "Hey Rookie, Welcome to the NFL" documentary last week, Swann had no problem reciting a Smith-Schuster scouting report that sounds tailored for Pittsburgh.

"He's got the size. He's got the strength. He's got the attitude," Swann said in the show. "In Juju, you've got a guy who's got the kind of versatility you might be looking for."

Swann and Smith-Schuster didn't talk specifically about the Steelers during the draft process, but the younger receiver said he got advice on "staying focused, always staying positive."

He'll need it to command a role in a potentially crowded Steelers receiver room. Assuming Martavis Bryant works his way back from conditional reinstatement, the Steelers could enter camp with up to seven receivers with at least five NFL starts.

The Steelers won't be handing him a job without merit.

Of course, not all those receivers have Smith-Schuster's advantages. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley is drawn to his youth (turned 20 in November), his size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and versatility as a "do-it-all guy," capable of playing in the slot or the outside. The Steelers offense, more than most, stresses interchangeable receiver parts.

He also wins "combative" catches and loves to block, Haley said.

"50-50 balls as we call them, and he usually comes down with them," Haley said. "He’s a really exciting guy and we are excited to get him here to work on ... He plays with a great passion."

That last point is one USC expectation all three accomplished Trojans will have shown in Pittsburgh. It's up to Smith-Schuster to fill in the rest.