It’s not exactly rare to find somebody praising Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown’s abilities on the field or his dedication to the game of football. After all, it comes with the territory when you are one of the best players in the game, regardless of position. People are going to take notice of you and what you do well.
After watching him for eight years as an observer and a commentator, however, Jon Gruden gets to coach against him for the first time following a decade-long layoff from the coaching ranks as his Oakland Raiders host the Steelers on Sunday.
Gruden was asked for his thoughts on Brown earlier in the week, and he started by praising his ability to do everything on the field. “They move him around everywhere. You don’t know where he’s gonna be”, he said. “He runs every route you can dream of. I know I say that about other receivers, but he can run double moves, he can run by you, he can run crossing routes. He’s very good after the catch”.
While I wouldn’t say that the Steelers move Brown around that much, he was targeted three times on Sunday from out of the slot. He caught all three of those passes, two for first downs, though they only accumulated 22 yards in total.
Still, it’s not his ability to line up anywhere on the field that makes him great. It’s actually what he does outside of the stadium leading up to games that puts him in another class from almost any other receiver in the game today.
“What’s the greatest thing about this man, as I’ve told all our receivers, if you get a chance to watch him practice, you’ll see what unlocks the greatness”, Gruden said of Brown, who has garnered quite a reputation for his work ethic over the years.
“He’s the hardest-working man, I think, in football. Hardest-working player I’ve ever seen practice. And I’ve seen Jerry Rice; I’ve seen a lot of good ones. I put Antonio Brown at the top. And if there’s any young wideouts out there, I’d go watch him practice and you figure out yourself why he’s such a good player”.
Rice is generally regarded as the greatest football player of all time, and he routinely credited his success to his work on the practice field, so for Gruden to suggest that Brown’s work ethic is at or above that level is certainly high praise.
The Raiders’ head coach will get the opportunity to see how that work on the practice field translates to his home stadium on Sunday. Brown is coming off his biggest game of the season with 10 receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown.