Justin Brown never has dressed for an NFL game. If he does Sunday, there is a decent chance he’ll start and play a big role in the Steelers offense.
Veteran slot receiver Lance Moore did not practice for a second consecutive day Thursday because of a groin injury that has bothered him for a couple of weeks. If he does not practice Friday, he won’t play against the Cleveland Browns in the opener at Heinz Field.
“We’re going to go right down to the wire with those decisions,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said after practice Thursday. “Justin has worked his tail off since the day he’s been here. I’m sure he’s champing at the bit for the opportunity.”
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Moore wasn’t sure if he was going to practice Friday. He said Brown has the ability to step in and play at a high level if he cannot play.
“There won’t be a whole lot of tape on him, which is good for us,” Moore said. “He has developed into a very, very dependable guy. You can tell on film in practice that [quarterback Ben Roethlisberger] really trusts him now.
“It’s exciting to see a young guy who is getting more opportunities make the most of those. Hopefully, those things we’re seeing in practice will carry over into the game as well.”
Brown, who spent last season on the practice squad, has been familiarizing himself with the slot since the spring. He played that position his first two seasons at Penn State. When he transferred to Oklahoma, he played outside.
“This is what I’ve been preparing for,” Brown said. “I’m still asking Lance for advice on certain routes, but I feel comfortable and I’ll be ready.”
Haley said he is a good fit for the slot.
“He’s a big guy,” Haley said. “At the slot position, you’re talking about a guy who has to block some big-bodied people in the run game. Much like Jerricho [Cotchery], you have a big guy in Justin who can block some linebackers if he has to and do some of the dirty work there. That makes him a big target. He’s a tough guy. If he gets the opportunity, I’ll be excited to see what he’s got.”
Reserve offensive linemen in the NFL have to be position flexible to make 53-man rosters. First-year offensive lineman Chris Hubbard has strictly been a guard in his two years with the Steelers, but he says he is comfortable playing any position on the line.
Hubbard played tackle at UAB and did not become a full-time guard until after the Steelers signed him as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2013. He spent last season on the practice squad.
Hubbard also might see some time as a third tight end. The coaches used him there in the final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
“I played center, tackle, guard and tight end in college and high school,” Hubbard said. “I’m familiar with all of those positions. I’m comfortable with whatever they want me to do.”
Haley mentioned how much Hubbard has progressed since last season.
“Chris Hubbard, we were just trying to keep his head above water at this time last year,” Haley said. “Now, he’s making a push to have a helmet on Sunday.”
Other players who did not participate in practice Thursday were rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant (shoulder), cornerback Brice McCain (groin) and center Cody Wallace (finger).
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.