By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — NFL training camps are all about opportunities, and few likely have gotten a better chance than Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown.
With veteran Hines Ward on the PUP list until today after thumb surgery and No. 3 wideout Emmanuel Sanders out for more two weeks with a sore left foot, Brown has moved into the starting lineup with third-year player Mike Wallace. And he has done pretty well so far during Steelers camp at Saint Vincent College.
“I definitely think that I’m continuing to improve, and I hope to continue to take advantage of my opportunities when they’re presented to me,” Brown said. “I just want to keep it up every day. So, a key for me is to stay sharp mentally.
“My game is steadily coming along, but I have to trust in my coaches and my teammates, especially my quarterback, and that can help you go a long way. I am a lot more confident in that regard this year, because I’ve been here before.
“I gained confidence toward the end of last season, and with the way I finished it was able to carry over into training camp,” Brown added. “So, I’m looking forward to continuing to have a good camp with a strong practice every day.”
A second-year player who was the Steelers’ second pick in the sixth round last year, Brown primarily was a special-teams performer and extra receiver when the club went to four- or five-wide situations. But he clearly took advantage of every opportunity with 16 catches for 167 yards and no scores.
But once the playoffs rolled around, Brown shined as a wideout. He caught a crucial 58-yard reception on third-and-long against the Baltimore Ravens when he caught the ball over his right shoulder and pinned it against his helmet until he gained control. He also made a 14-yard catch for a first down to seal the AFC title against the New York Jets.
“Just getting an opportunity for him to be in there with the ones, his confidence is sky high,” Ward said. “These opportunities and chances can be very slim to get, so you have to capitalize on them when you get them.
“I think he’s seizing the moment, because with me and Emmanuel out he’s gotten some quality looks in with the first group. So, he just has to keep it up.”
With the special teams units, Brown was a solid punt-returner, ran a kickoff back for a touchdown off a reverse against the Tennessee Titans, forced a fumble and then recovered it on kickoff coverage. Brown expects those plays to be the norm this coming season.
“I understand the concepts of the offense and the roles everybody has in it,” Brown said. “The more you understand, the easier it is for you to follow up with a big play. As I said before, special teams is going to make a big difference.
“For me, I’ll get some playing time on passing downs, but I can make an impact on special teams. I want to make more big catches, too, but you can turn a game around with a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown.”
Ward believed that with he and Wallace and the two second-year players, the Steelers receiving corps could be among the league’s best. Still, the club interviewed former New York Jets wideout Jerricho Cotchery about joining the team. Brown didn’t believe that was necessary.
“I don’t think we need anybody, but that’s my personal opinion,” Brown said. “But the more, the better. So, I just have to focus on the guys we have in here now and myself and continue to take advantage of the opportunities that I get.”
Notes: Steelers second-year center Maurkice Pouncey entered the lunch room with his left ankle covered by a bag of ice, but he said he was just a recurrence of an old injury — the one he got before the Super Bowl.
It’s said that once you get a high-ankle sprain, it heals much easier on future sprains. That appears to be the case with Pouncey, because he said he’s practicing later today and expected to play in the first preseason game Friday night at Washington.
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