Senin, 29 Agustus 2011

Brown's breakout a big bonus

Monday, August 29, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 27: Antonio Brown(notes) #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs up field on a kick off against the Atlanta Falcons during a pre-season game on August 27, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Every season for every team, it seems, there emerges that one individual performance that no one could have seen coming. Maurkice Pouncey makes the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Tyler Kennedy scores 21 goals. Jeff Karstens pitches with the National League's elite.

Well, don't ever admit that you couldn't see Antonio Brown coming.

He's been coming in leaps and bounds, quite literally, from the first day the Steelers donned pads in Latrobe. He's gone airborne to grab Ben Roethlisberger's playground heaves, he's sprinted past the secondary on deep routes, he's sliced through defenders on quick slants and he's even had a big kickoff return in a preseason when such things are being measured by taking-a-knee style points.

As tight end Heath Miller told me Saturday night at Heinz Field, "I don't think Antonio's surprising people anymore."

That was shortly after the Steelers' 34-16 exhibition victory over Atlanta, in which Brown had four catches for 137 yards, including touchdowns of 77 and 44 yards from Roethlisberger. Add in the 51-yard game-opening kickoff return, plus three others and a quick run, and it was 247 total yards. All in the first half!

For all three games, he has nine catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns, all tops on the team and the latter two leading the NFL. Doesn't take Mel Kiper Jr. to prognosticate off that kind of production.

Just imagine, in the broader view, what the Steelers' receiving corps could be: Mike Wallace led the AFC last season at 21 yards per catch. Emmanuel Sanders was the most dynamic option down the stretch. Hines Ward needs 46 catches for 1,000 on his way to Canton. Jerricho Cotchery was a dependable No. 3 for the New York Jets. And now, there's Brown on the clear cusp of a breakout.

Hey, can anyone explain why the Steelers' typically prudent evaluators were courting Plaxico Burress?

Some caution is advised regarding Brown, of course: He was the 195th player taken in the 2010 draft, he was inactive for seven games as a rookie and his next real touchdown catch will be his first. Let's remember, too, that he was considered behind draft peer Sanders on the developmental curve as recently as, oh, a month ago. For all we've seen this summer, we're still talking about practice.

Maybe that's what Mike Tomlin had in mind when he admonished Brown for that taunting penalty -- Brown pointed back at Atlanta safety Thomas DeCoud -- after the first touchdown Saturday.

"It's just not intelligent," the coach said, deftly avoiding calling it stupid, which it was.

"I've been getting a little carried away lately, and not just on that play," Brown said. ""It's just preseason. I'm doing some great things, but it's not the end of the world. I just need to calm down."

That's sound advice for all, actually. But it's still tough not to think of the many potentially positive spinoffs if Brown really is this good.

What if Bruce Arians' offensive scheme can send out four or even five receiving threats on one series, then two tight ends -- as we saw with a seamless opening drive Saturday -- on the next?

What if Brown motivates Sanders to leapfrog him anew on the depth chart?

What if Brown's presence frees up Wallace after a quiet playoffs and a two-catch preseason?

That last one piques my curiosity the most, if only because it will be fascinating to watch how opponents handle the Steelers' receivers, whether they keep double-teaming Wallace, switch over to Brown or toss up their nickels and dimes and another coins in their pockets. Moreover, it will be telling if Brown can break free of a double team better than Wallace has.

"Right now, Mike takes so much pressure off the rest of us," Brown said. "If they double me, watch out for him."

"They won't know who to cover," Wallace said with a devilish grin. "It'll be crazy, man."

Brown isn't the Steelers' biggest receiver at 5-foot-10, nor their fastest, but his ability to find the ball and bust loose isn't a skill set easily quantified at combines. It might have been best summed up Saturday by Roethlisberger: "It's just the little things. He's a really good football player. He's got good instincts."

"I feel like I'm getting more reps, getting more comfortable out there," Brown said. "It's really just confidence."

Without cockiness, he pledged: "That won't happen again. That's not Steelers football."

No, it isn't, per Chuck Noll's eternal guide to end-zone celebrations: "Act like you've been there before."

The rest of us would do well to act like we knew Brown would get there.

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