Steelers notebook: Antonio Brown continues impressive play
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It didn't seem to matter to Antonio Brown that the Steelers were already playing without wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. He made enough dazzling plays to make up for both of them.
As he has since the first day of training camp, Brown was nothing short of sensational in Saturday night's 34-16 preseason victory against the Atlanta Falcons, catching touchdown passes of 77 and 44 yards and also returning the opening kickoff 51 yards to set up a score.
Brown's first touchdown was a deftly executed slant in which Ben Roethlisberger's pass sailed just over the reach of diving cornerback Brent Grimes, Brown caught the ball at his own 45 and outraced safety Thomas DeCoud to the end zone.
The only thing Brown did wrong was get an unsportsmanlike penalty for taunting when he pointed at DeCoud as he pranced into the end zone. Brown celebrated the touchdown by leaping into the stands and hanging sideways on a guard rail as fans patted him on his helmet.
On the second touchdown, Brown got behind Grimes again and made a leaping two-handed catch in the end zone to give the Steelers a 24-13 lead.
"He's a really good football player," Roethlisberger said. "He's got good instincts."
It has been that way since the start of training camp for Brown, a sixth-round pick in 2010 who has three touchdown catches in his past two preseason games. Coach Mike Tomlin said Brown is a highly conditioned athlete who "can run all day," allowing him to take more repetitions than any other player at his position.
"It's a great character trait," Tomlin said. "Guys don't wilt when they're highly conditioned. That conditioning is allowing him to get the number of snaps necessary to improve technically, and he has done that."
Brown has also received lots of snaps because Sanders is still healing from offseason surgery on his left foot and hasn't played in the preseason. Sanders has resumed individual workouts and could return to team drills this week.
Cotchery, who had two catches for 49 yards, including one of 20 yards for a touchdown, in his Steelers debut last week, did not play because of a hamstring injury.
"I'll just continue to get better and improve day in and day out," Brown said. "You can see the results just pan out."
It is still possible the Steelers could find a veteran tight end on the waiver wire to come in and be one of the backup tight ends. But, right now, David Johnson is the No. 2 tight end who will be on the field in the two tight end sets, and he showed another dimension against the Falcons.
Johnson is considered the team's best blocking tight end, which is why he spent his first two seasons as the H-back/fullback in the offense. But, on the first series, he caught consecutive passes of 17 and 16 yards on what appeared to be the same rollout play to set up Rashard Mendenhall's 1-yard touchdown run.
Rookie No. 2 draft pick Marcus Gilbert started at left tackle for Jonathan Scott, who injured his knee in the second preseason game and did not practice all week.
Gilbert played the first half and appeared to do a good job against three-time All-Pro John Abraham. The only exception was a play on the second series when Abraham ran over Gilbert and forced a sack.
Gilbert moved to right tackle to start the third quarter so veteran Trai Essex, re-signed last week, could get some snaps at left tackle.
Keenan Lewis started at left cornerback for Bryant McFadden, who has not dressed for any of the preseason games because of a hamstring/groin injury.
Lewis made a nice breakup of a pass intended for Falcons receiver Roddy White in the end zone in the first quarter, then one play later injured his left knee and did not return. The extent of his injury is not known.
Lewis was replaced by Crezdon Butler, a fifth-round pick in 2010 who has been injured most of training camp. Butler, though, made an emphatic case to gain a roster spot when he returned an interception of a Chris Redman pass 95 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Rookie outside linebacker Chris Carter injured his hamstring on kick coverage in the first quarter and did not return.
The Steelers have to cut 10 players by 4 p.m. Tuesday to get to the 80-player limit. All teams have to be down to 53 players by Sept. 3.
First Published August 28, 2011 12:00 am