Antonio Brown seizes chance to shine
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Long after many of his Steelers teammates and fans had left the practice fields of Saint Vincent College, wide receiver Antonio Brown burst into a route and found himself on the receiving end of a lob from quarterback Dennis Dixon. After Brown hauled in the pass, a fan perched on top of a hill overlooking the field shouted to him a very clear and direct message of support.
"You're going to the Pro Bowl!" the fan yelled as Brown pointed back to him in recognition and turned around with a wide grin on his face.
With an apparent work ethic and drive that haven't been tempered by heightened expectations, Brown is attempting to elevate his game after a promising rookie season and trying to help his team get back to the Super Bowl.
"I want to be the last one to leave every day and I want to be the first one in," Brown said.
"I want to put this work in, so, when gametime comes, it's a lot easier because I already prepared for it."
Though he missed seven of the Steelers' 19 games last season and his statistics may look modest to some, Brown emerged as a threat in the team's passing attack in 2010, particularly late in the season. He finished the regular season with 16 receptions for 167 yards.
With the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens tied late in the fourth quarter of their AFC divisional playoff game, Brown made his biggest play as a rookie, trapping a 58-yard pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger against his helmet to help set up the winning score.
Brown ended up with a game-high 75 receiving yards, and, while those who have observed him closely see room for improvement, they also note he is poised for a breakout season.
"I think any time you talk about football players, whether they be receivers or defensive linemen or quarterbacks, the biggest jump they make in their career is between their first year and second year," said Steelers wide receiver coach Scottie Montgomery.
"It comes with a lot of hard work, conditioning and everything that goes into working. He's made a tremendous step forward."
In addition to Brown's improvement, he has been called upon to play a bigger role in the offense because fellow second-year wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (foot) has missed most of training camp.
For Brown, it is a chance he has cherished and used to better position himself for this season.
"It was a golden opportunity for me to get more reps and to get people acclimated and accustomed to me," Brown said.
"I'm able to start gaining trust from my teammates, gaining trust from Ben [Roethlisberger] and definitely gaining trust from my coaches to put me in certain positions to give myself a chance."
Thus far, Brown has made the most of the opportunity. In the Steelers' 16-7 loss against the Washington Redskins in the preseason opener, Brown led the Steelers receivers with 64 yards on four catches.
He hopes to build on that as the Steelers play host to the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night.
Brown thinks he is ready to build on the glimpses of promise he provided last season.
"This could be something that could be really special and really amazing for me," Brown said.
"I think it's the opportunity of my life, and it can change a lot of things."
First Published August 17, 2011 12:01 am