The Pittsburgh Steelers have parted ways with a number of aging talents that epitomized success in the community during the height of their careers. While their on-field assets may have diminished over the years, however, one should not underestimate the ripple effect that their departures could have within the locker room.
While the concepts of camaraderie and leadership may be somewhat elusive when it comes to the team chemistry of a sports team, there is no doubt some truth to the idea that these qualities help build a winning team, especially when it comes to a game as interconnected with one another as is football.
The last several offseasons have seen some quality championship characters exit stage right, and their vacant lockers no doubt diminished the overall character of the room as a whole. Just recently, the team saw both Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu retire, even if their departures were already in the plans for this spring.
The question now becomes identifying who the new locker room leaders are, both now and in the future. I believe we do have some immediate answers, with a few waiting to be developed in the coming years, so let’s get to know some of these men who are leading the locker room these days for the Steelers.
On the offensive side of the ball, there can be no better leader by example type than All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who now spends his time breaking his own franchise records. After last season, he holds the Steelers’ receiving records for receptions, yards, and touchdowns in a season.
And while he has more than his fair share of it, that production certainly doesn’t just come from sheer skill. Brown’s work ethic is unrivaled as he constantly works on his craft. Even if he has had some maturity issues to overcome in the past.
Even as recently as early in the 2013 season, there were reports that Brown was not content with the number of targets per game that he was receiving in Todd Haley’s offense. But considering he has caught nearly 240 passes in the last two years, I suspect that he is largely content with his target level now.
Brown has had a steady climb since coming in as a late-round draft pick in 2010. He hardly saw the field as a rookie, but slowly emerged in his second year, racking up over 1000 receiving yards largely from the slot.
He moved into the starting lineup in 2012, but struggled a bit for a period with an ankle injury that caused him to miss three games. He finished with under 1000 yards, but improved his end zone production with five touchdowns.
In 2013, Brown became the top target due to free agent vacancies, and many wondered if he could be that guy. He responded with 110 receptions, 1499 yards, and eight touchdowns, and he only bettered those numbers last year as he put his name in the conversation for the best wide receiver in the game.
He has over the past couple of years become more conscious of himself in the public spotlight as a representative of the team, realizing that he is being turned to as an ambassador for his ball club as a whole.
I expect him to continue to grow into that role even further, and I also anticipate seeing him take on more of a veteran leadership role as the wide receiver room continues to get younger, especially if they add another player in this draft.