NFL

Playmaker Brown fits mold of Steelers' fan favourite

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Ben Fisher, TSN.ca
8/28/2014 7:45:54 PM
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Long heralded for – and proud of – their blue collar reputation, the Pittsburgh Steelers produce their fan favourites and all-time greats in the trenches, or at least the linebacking corps.

Even their cherished skill position players are known most for their gritty play, think running back Jerome Bettis or wide receiver Hines Ward.

So what happens when a legitimate playmaker and pure skill player dons Steelers black and gold? He flies under the radar some.

The playmaker in question – and in Pittsburgh starting lineup – is receiver Antonio Brown, who quietly put up one of the best seasons of any receiver in the league last year.

Brown led the Steelers with 110 receptions for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns. Those numbers ranked him second in both catches and yards and with Josh Gordon, last year's yards leader, facing a full-year suspension for substance abuse, the path is clear to take the receiving yards title this year.

In the Steelers long and storied history, no receiver has put up the kind of season Brown did last year.

And perhaps just as important in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers pride themselves on doing things the right way, is Brown's evolution into a leader.

Once part of the “Young Money Family” alongside fellow receivers Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders – both of whom are no longer with the team – Brown is now taking on a guidance role for the younger pass catchers brought in to replace the likes of Wallace and Sanders.

"Everyone's watching my attitude, my demeanor, my approach,” Brown told reporters at the start of training camp. “Coach (Mike Tomlin) says I'm the guy to look to do things, so there's a lot of emphasis on how to handle things and how to go about a lot of things being the leader."

Brown puts in the required hard work as well, returning kickoffs – a rarity for a No. 1 receiver to dabble in special teams play – and continuing to target areas he feels still need improvement, such as blocking.

Brown may not have started out as your prototypical Steelers player, perhaps the organization rubbed off on him, because he certainly is now. The eye-catching skill and highlight reel plays are almost just a bonus.

Notes

Brown will need another big season for the Steelers because after him the team's receiving corps is very green. Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders are gone now meaning one of Markus Wheaton or Martavis Bryant should be lining up opposite Brown. Pittsburgh did sign former New Orleans Saints receiver Lance Moore for a veteran presence.

The Steelers have long been known to have a power running game as a focal point of their offence and this year they have a duo that should fill that role nicely. Alongside Le'Veon Bell, who looked impressive in his rookie campaign last year, the Steelers added powerful free agent LeGarrette Blount, who flashed – as he has his entire career – strong ability last year with the New England Patriots.

Alongside Blount and Moore, the Steelers also added safety Mike Mitchell, who has had a fairly solid career split between the Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers.

The Steelers landed two borderline first round talents in the first two rounds of the draft – one taken perhaps a little early in linebacker Ryan Shazier (15th overall) and one who could possibly turn out to be a steal in defensive end Stephon Tuitt (46th overall).

The Steelers added a great assistant coach in former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak. Munchak wasn't a very successful head coach but his bread and butter is the offensive line and he should only help Pittsburgh line.

Antonio Brown  (Photo: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
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