The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are in a critical portion of the offseason in which the preseason takes center stage, where some of the biggest and most important questions get answered, especially in terms of personnel.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: How is Antonio Brown from a physical standpoint?
We’ve talked far too much over the course of the season so far about Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in contexts that have little to do with football, so much so that key milestones in his career such as reaching 10,000 receiving yards (the second-fastest ever) and becoming the fastest player to hit 750 receptions were largely ignored when we covered them.
There has been a lot of talk about responses he has made to people on socials media, about his conduct on the sidelines, and about his briefly going AWOL. Much less has been said about the fact that he is still working his way back from a nagging injury, or at least appears to be.
There’s no doubt in my mind that his frustrations tie into his healthy, and his ability to perform at the level he is accustomed to. There is also the fact that it’s been a while since he has played a game close to 100 percent. He was injured in the 14th game of the season last year, missing the final two games of the regular season before coming back for an epic playoff performance in a losing effort, still dogged by the injury.
He is in his age-30 season, and is dealing with injuries more than more than he ever has been before. Perhaps there is some existential angst about the rest of his future years in the NFL, and whether he has already played the best football of his career.
More importantly, while he’s been far from a liability, he also hasn’t been his usual explosive self. Combine that with frustrations in terms of bad passes or miscommunication with Ben Roethlisberger, and you get volatility.
He hasn’t missed a practice since the regular season began, but that doesn’t mean he’s at 100 percent.