As tends to be the case with the greatest athletes of any generation, it seems as though Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown can find fuel to push himself harder in just about any situation. Such as an exhibition game down in Orlando during which he gets an opportunity to interact with his peers.
Among the wide receivers also down in Orlando for the Pro Bowl with him are Keenan Allen, Jarvis Landry, T.Y. Hilton, Michael Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald, and Davante Adams. The only one in that group that can begin to say that he has done what Brown has done is Fitzgerald, the Pittsburgh product who has been in the league since 2004.
“Most of these guys out here want to be in my spot”, he told reporters yesterday after practice. “They tell me, ‘I want to be where you’re at’. You want to come for me, just keep coming. I’m going to continue to lay bricks for the foundation, building this house up the right way. I invite all these guys to stay tuned”.
Brown was named a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl starter for the fourth consecutive season. He is a five-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler in his eight NFL seasons, though his first Pro Bowl nomination in his second season came as a returner when he became the only player in league history to record 1000 receiving and 1000 return yards in one year.
He has twice led the league in receiving yardage, including this season with 1533, and he did that while missing the final 10 quarters of the regular season, only to come back with a 132-yard game in the postseason, including two touchdowns. The season in which he had over 1800 receiving yards is not even among those in which he led the league.
“There’s always pressure to perform”, Brown said. “There’s always pressure for getting better. That’s the fun part about the NFL. Guys have to always grow and get better. Young guys are coming here and want my spot. Guys out here want my spot. Guys tell me they want to be where I’m at. I have to continue to get better and work”.
A couple of those guys who want his spot share the same roster. Martavis Bryant certainly envisions himself as being capable of being a number one receiver, though he knows he will never get the full opportunity to demonstrate it while playing on the same team.
Rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster had a big first season in 14 games, catching 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns, which is arguably the best rookie season for a receiver in Steelers history. He is just getting started, and is only 21 years old.
You think Smith-Schuster’s presence—and Bryant’s presence—don’t also fuel Brown to continue to push as hard as he can? He’s smaller than they are. He’s shorter than they are. But neither of them are in his ballpark. Virtually nobody is.