PITTSBURGH (AP)—The horn echoed off the hillsides of Pittsburgh’s South Side from the fields of the Steelers’ facility, signifying the end of a 2½-hour practice.
More than 30 minutes later Sunday, wide receiver Antonio Brown finally emerged in the Steelers’ emptying locker room. Several veterans were showered, dressed and out the door, but Brown was still carrying his stained and sweat-filed pads.
|MOVING UP THE DEPTH CHART—Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown celebrates after making a touchdown catch against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter of a NFL preseason football game on Aug. 18, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Donald Wright)
“Just trying to get in what I can get in,” he said. “It usually takes a while, so it keeps me out there.”
Brown being among the last to leave the field has been one of the few constants of Steelers training camp—first at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., and now back in Pittsburgh.
A sixth-round pick last year, Brown scored a touchdown during his first preseason game and the first time he touched the ball in a regular-season game.
Brown has been one of the standouts of his second NFL training camp. The ball has found him repeatedly at practice and during preseason games as he aims to make more of an impact for the defending AFC champions.
“Antonio is working his tail off,” veteran wide receiver Hines Ward said. “You can see it. He’s putting it on tape, working hard. He’s still young and still got some things he needs to work on, but I love his progression and what he’s becoming. He’s going to be a great player in this league.”
It’s only the preseason, but Brown leads the Steelers with five catches for 93 yards through two games. His lone reception in last Thursday’s 24-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles went for a 29-yard touchdown when be beat All Pro cornerback Asante Samuel and was all alone.
Brown took the ball on a reverse on the opening kickoff of Week 2 in Tennessee last season and ran 89 yards for a touchdown after being inactive for the season opener.
Brown dressed for four of the first 11 games, managing only two receptions. But he had multiple catches in each of Pittsburgh’s final five regular-season games and had at least one in each of the team’s games during the run to the Super Bowl.
The late-season charge has Brown inching up the Steelers’ depth chart and provided a springboard for the 23-year-old product from Central Michigan.
“I’m just using all the building blocks I can to set myself up for the regular season,” Brown said. “All I’m doing is fine-tuning my game week in and week out and working on the little things so when these battles really count, I have already sharpened my sword for what I need to.
“I’m just getting better, improving to gain the trust of my teammates, taking little notes—anything I can do so I can get better.”
Brown has gotten more opportunities than expected this training camp. He’s spent the majority of it running with the first-team offense across from Mike Wallace due to minor injuries to Ward and Emmanuel Sanders and the fact that veteran Jerricho Cotchery didn’t sign until early last week.
With Terrell Owens unsigned, Ward is the NFL’s active leader among wide receivers in receptions and yards receiving. Wallace had 1,257 yards receiving and led the AFC in yards per catch last season, Cotchery led the Jets in receiving, and Sanders is coming off a solid rookie season.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who all possess a lot of amazing things and some special talent,” Brown said. “And when you come into the Steelers locker room, there’s only one way to do things because everyone wants to make another run.”
Led by Ward, who is in his 14th season, the Steelers’ wide receiver corps is a tight group for one so diverse in its skills, ages and backgrounds. Each player respects the work ethic of his teammates—but none has received more praise lately than Brown.
“It comes down from Hines,” Wallace said, “and all of us have the same ethic.
“But ‘AB,’ his is just at another level. You try to get there, but I don’t know if I can get to that … That guy, man, his work ethic is incredible. I really commend him on it.”
On occasion, Brown will wear a UPS vest that his brother, Desmond, gave him. Desmond worked for the packaging company before heading to college, where he walked on as a receiver at the University of Pittsburgh. The school’s football offices are housed in the same building as the Steelers’.
“I wear the UPS as motivation to let us know where we came from and the hard work we put it in and continue to put it in and continue to deliver,” Brown said. “I’ll always put the work in. My coach always told me, ‘You don’t want to have no regrets when game time comes. You want to know that you did everything to prepare yourself for all the moments.’
“That’s my edge. That’s what made me get over and beyond where I should be, putting in the extra work and doing the things I need to do.”