After spending all day at the Steelers practice facility, receiver Antonio Brown isn’t one to go home to relax. On many nights after an eight-hour day at the office, Brown will work out with a personal trainer at a gym or train on his own at his house.
For Brown, staying the same is never an option, and staying a step ahead of the competition is an obsession.
“The guys like that, those are the great ones,” veteran receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “They spend a lot of time working on their bodies, their game, being prepared for the next practice, the next game. That’s what he does.
Players talk about regular season finale against Browns
Ben Roethlisberger and Jarvis Jones talk about the final game of the regular season against the Browns. (Video by Lake Fong; 12/24/2013)
“When I first got here, I went over to his house and you go into the living room and you see a bunch of workout equipment. He never stops working. You can tell. He’s always available health-wise and he’s always out there making plays for the team. It’s a beautiful thing to see when you see that hard work translate on Sundays.”
Brown’s hard work has translated on Sundays this season more than ever, and it’s the reason his teammates voted him team MVP for the second time in three years. He also was named team MVP in 2011.
“It means everything,” Brown said. “Anytime you’re voted by your peers to be put in this position, you’re thankful and I never take it for granted. It’s something I appreciate.”
The Steelers have named team MVPs since 1969, and Brown is in some elite company for earning the honor twice. Only 10 others have received the honor on multiple occasions: Terry Bradshaw (1977-78), John Stallworth (1979 and 1984), Jack Lambert (1976 and 1981), Louis Lipps (1985 and 1989), Rod Woodson (1990 and 1993), Greg Lloyd (1991 and 1994), Jerome Bettis (1996-97 and 2000), Levon Kirkland (1998-99), Hines Ward (2002-03 and 2005-06) and James Harrison (2007-08).
Ward is the only Steeler to win the award four times, and Brown is halfway to Ward’s total after only four seasons in the league. Brown already owns some team records and has his sights on others.
Last week at Green Bay, Brown broke Yancey Thigpen’s team record for most receiving yards in a season. He has 101 receptions for 1,412 yards entering the regular-season finale against the Browns. With 12 receptions Sunday, Brown would pass Ward to become the team’s single-season leader.
But perhaps the most impressive statistic for Brown this season is this: He has at least five receptions and 50 yards in every game. If Brown can do it again Sunday, he’ll be the first player in the NFL since Laveranues Coles in 2002 to do that every game. Earlier this week, coach Mike Tomlin paid tribute to Brown by saying he is “ridiculously consistent.”
That consistency has Brown competing with some of the elite receivers in the game atop the league’s statistics charts. He is third in the NFL behind Josh Gordon and Calvin Johnson in receiving yards and third in receptions behind Pierre Garcon and Andre Johnson.
At 5 feet 10 and 186 pounds, Brown is not your prototypical No. 1 receiver, but Cotchery said Brown produces like one, which is all that should matter.
“Everyone has created their own perception of what a No. 1 receiver looks like,” Cotchery said. “Your No. 1 receiver makes plays for your team in clutch situations and you can go to that guy when you need a play. That’s what we’re able to do with him. When we need a spark on offense, he gives us that spark. He’s done it the entire year and we’re happy to have him on our side.”
The other top candidate for MVP was Ben Roethlisberger, who on Sunday can set the team’s single-season record for passing yards. Roethlisberger already set the season record for most completions and has an outside chance to set the record for most touchdown passes in a season.
What might have swayed the vote to Brown is his work on special teams. Brown also serves as the team’s punt returner, and he has five punt returns of 40 yards or more this season. Last week, he became just the fifth player in franchise history to reach 1,000 yards in punt-return yardage.
“He’s a special guy with the ball in his hands,” Cotchery said. “He’s a hard guy to get on the ground. You can ask a lot of guys in this league. Once he gets the ball in his hands, everyone is holding their breath because usually something special happens.”
Outside linebacker Jason Worilds (abdomen) did not practice Thursday, but defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau did not appear concerned about Worilds playing against the Browns. When asked if he thought Worilds would be limited in his number of snaps, LeBeau said, “I’m hoping not.”
LeBeau did say that reserves Chris Carter and Stevenson Sylvester will be in a rotation for the outside linebackers against the Browns. In addition to Worilds’ abdomen injury, Jarvis Jones is working his way back from a case of the flu that kept him out of the Green Bay game. Jones was limited in practice.
Other players who did not participate in practice included guard David DeCastro (back), linebacker Terence Garvin (knee) and receiver Emmanuel Sanders (knee). Others who were limited were Brett Keisel (foot), tight end Heath Miller (not injury-related), safety Troy Polamalu (not injury-related) and receiver Markus Wheaton (finger).
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.