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JuJu Smith-Schuster tries to move up Steelers depth chart

LATROBE, Pa. -- Sitting out a few practices last week while Pittsburgh Steelers receivers made plays reminded JuJu Smith-Schuster that he needed to join them.

"That makes me excited. The competition, everybody's going to play better," said the 20-year-old rookie, who missed time with a lower-body injury but is back now. "This is the best receiver group I've been a part of."

After his first few padded practices as a Steeler, Smith-Schuster has shown physicality and the ability to finish difficult plays but also needs more time to establish his role.

Smith-Schuster, who can play in the slot or on the outside, got some run with the first-team offense, which is common in a Steelers lineup that often rests players and likes to mix rotations.

Smith-Schuster recorded a drop but also made the catch of the night, staying with a ball that was off target from quarterback Joshua Dobbs and deflected by safety Robert Golden.

With the top two outside spots belonging to Antonio Brown and (eventually) Martavis Bryant, plus lanky Justin Hunter making a move in camp, Smith-Schuster's best chance might come inside, where Eli Rogers started last season.

The early money is on Rogers, though Smith-Schuster appears to be applying pressure. Rogers (48 receptions in 2016) has great open-field moves and can make tough catches. He also frustrated coaches during Thursday's one-on-ones with a few route miscues.

Ben Roethlisberger hasn't had many reps with Smith-Schuster just yet. They'll have to develop a chemistry before Smith-Schuster pushes for significant time. But the qualities of a second-round pick are obvious here. He plucks the ball out of the air well and has strong arms/hands for finishing plays.

A few other notes from Friday's practice:

• Running back Trey Williams impressed in backs-on-backers drills, drawing raves from coach Mike Tomlin and others for his blocking.

• Fullback Roosevelt Nix routinely smashes people in this drill.

James Harrison wasn't happy with rookie T.J. Watt for trying to finesse tight end Phazahn Odom, who got the better of Watt at least once. Harrison strongly urged Watt to overpower Odom, which he did on his next try. Watt didn't seem to have the same pass-rushing prowess Friday as he did earlier in camp.

• Tight ends David Johnson and Xavier Grimble comprise a stout blocking duo for the running game and pass protection.

• Linebackers Anthony Chickillo and Vince Williams had nice days in one-on-ones with a few swift-move victories.

• Cornerback Artie Burns left practice early but his injury is considered minor.

• Among those sitting Friday: Roethlisberger, Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, James Conner, Marcus Gilbert, Maurkice Pouncey, Harrison, Hunter. These players were either given the day off or nursing minor injuries.

• Don't count out fifth-rounder Brian Allen in the rotational race. Coaches like the way the 6-foot-3 cornerback competes. On Friday night, Allen broke up a pass intended for Rogers by the pylon.