The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team about to enter the 2013 NFL season with a new receiver atop the depth chart for the third consecutive season. In only his fourth year, Antonio Brown is proving he is more than ready for his new job, and his new role as veteran leader.
Teresa Varley of Steelers.com recently filed an interview with Brown at the team's Southside practice facility. Barely a week removed from watching the post-season play out on a television set instead of a football field, Brown was done spectating.
He was at the team's facility hitting weights for strength, cardio for endurance and swimming for breath control. All tools he realizes are necessary when working at the professional level, especially as the top dog expected to hold a majority share of his team's offensive game-plan.
He admits watching the post-season from home had begun to fester and burn. The Steelers failed to make the playoffs for the first time in Brown's short career, something he has vowed to never allow again, to the best of his ability. Brown also expressed a hope for his teammates to share his feelings, and follow his example.
"If you want to be your best, you have to outwork your opponent. My opponent is not just someone I am competing against, but I am my biggest opponent. I know if I compete against myself every day I am working to be my best. That is something I always take pride in, working to better myself."
"Watching the playoffs was motivation. You see teams you played against and wonder why it wasn’t us. You wonder was it our ability physically on the field or was it our mentality, or team chemistry. A lot of things come up. You had a feeling that you wanted to be out there and you hope your teammates get the same feeling when they were watching it."
While the rest of Brown's comments can be read in Varley's original article, perhaps the most telling part of his interview revolved around his mental preparedness for leadership, and not just physical. Brown speaks like a player with twice his experience, cognizant of the true nature of his team's situation. No more mentions of young money or other irrelevant nonsense; only a focus on improving upon a disappointing 2012 effort, not only by himself, but by the team collectively.
"I am ready no matter who is here, no matter who goes. I am always working on getting better. I will be ready no matter what the situation is. Whoever stays in the room, we just have to know the importance of working hard and with the right attitude. We haven’t really won anything, we haven’t done anything, so we have to take the poor man approach that we don’t have anything and we are hungry to get everything and appreciate what we have. We have to work with that mentality and if we do that we will make less mistakes and mental errors and win more."
With Mike Wallace all but gone as the league draws nearer to the free-agency period of the off-season, Brown is already exhibiting more of a personal responsibility and better leadership qualities than Wallace did, when he found himself in the same position just one year ago. Wallace chose to skip camp during the first season as the teams official No. 1 receiver over a contract dispute and a fear of injury.
Mandatory workouts don't take place for months, but no one is going to keep Brown from doing everything possible to validate his contract and the legitimacy of his team's contention for championships each and every season. No one is forcing him, either.
Teammate Ike Taylor has also been reported to be back to work already, in Florida with trainer Tom Shaw after breaking his ankle and missing the end of the 2012 season. However, Taylor is also an older veteran with a substantial contract during tough fiscal times for a team amid a generational gap. Brown isn't working out for his job, he's working out for his team and teammates, and the city and fan-base they represent.
On a young roster perceived to be lacking veteran leadership, a true leader is stepping up and leading by example.