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JuJu Smith-Schuster is Healthy and Loving the Locker Room Vibes



New England Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (7) runs with the ball past Pittsburgh Steelers safety Damontae Kazee (23) during the first half of an NFL football game on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, in Pittsburgh. He was the Patriots highest graded offensive player by Pro Football Focus in Week 14 (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

New England Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was among those to meet with the media on Monday following the first day of organized team activities. After a disappointing debut season for the Patriots in 2023, Smith-Schuster sounded optimistic about 2024. This went for both the player and the team.

Smith-Schuster finished 2023 with 29 receptions, 260 receiving yards, and one touchdown. He appeared in 11 games last season for New England. Several medical issues prevented him from playing in more games. He entered the season with known knee issues. During the season he suffered a concussion, which caused him to miss two games. During his best game of the season against Pittsburgh in Week 14 he injured his ankle. The injury kept him sidelined for the remainder of the season.

On Monday, Smith-Schuster was asked how he felt physically.

“I feel great honestly,” said the veteran. “Last year I was probably 60%. This year I’m 100%.”

Also Read: Ranking the Top 50 Wide Receivers in the 2024 NFL Draft

Pro Football Focus viewed JuJu Smith-Schuster unfavorably in 2023. His offensive grade for the season was 57.0, the worst of his career. For reference, a grade below 70.0 isn’t considered worthy of starting. A grade below 60.0 represents being replaceable by a non-roster player. It was a fall from his 70.1 in 2022 and a far cry from his peak grade, 81.8 in 2018.

Locker Room Vibes

Health isn’t the only thing that JuJu Smith-Schuster hopes will help this year’s season go smoother for the New England Patriots and himself. As he walked away from reporters, Smith-Schuster turned back and delivered a final message.

“Wait until you see the locker room,” he stated. “The vibes are way better.”

There was noted dysfunction in the Patriots locker room last season, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. A Boston Herald report detailed many of these issues. They ranged from annoyance with quarterback play to an offensive coordinator unhappy with his staff. Veteran Trent Brown was planning his exit before the year was over. Bill Belichick was a lame-duck head coach after 24 years on the job. New England finished the season 4-13, the worst record in the AFC.

The ‘vibes’ last season were those of stress, annoyance, and defeat. In many ways, this year’s squad had nowhere to go but up.

Wide Receiver Room

Despite JuJu Smith-Schuster proclaiming himself 100% healthy, he has to prove himself on the field to make the 53-man roster. DeMario Douglas is coming off a promising rookie season. New England added Ja’Lynn Polk and Javon Baker in the NFL Draft. All three are assured roster spots barring something unforeseen. Kendrick Bourne is a fourth wide receiver roster lock if he’s healthy enough to avoid the IR/PUP lists to start the season.

A group of wide receivers, including Smith-Schuster, will fight for the remaining openings. These include free agent signing K.J. Osborn, former second-round pick Tyquan Thornton, return specialist Jalen Reagor, and second-year player Kayshon Boutte. T.J. Luther and Kawaan Baker round out the receivers on New England’s 90-man roster.

It is easy for fans to get excited early in the offseason. It should be noted how impressed everyone was with Bill O’Brien replacing Matt Patricia running the offense before games began a year ago, however that soon changed. The hope is that JuJu Smith-Schuster continues to feel great both physically and mentally throughout the offseason and into the regular season schedule. Great locker room vibes do not guarantee any success on the field, but it appears to be a good start for at least one New England Patriots veteran.

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