While most who follow the Pittsburgh Steelers will be watching pre-season activities to gauge the progression of Markus Wheaton, another rookie is ready to transition to a new way of football life. Justin Brown has been here before.
Brown began his collegiate career with his dream team, Joe Paterno's Penn State Nittany ; but decided to transfer to Oklahoma following the Jerry Sandusky situation. As covered in Ralph N. Paulk's column Sunday, leaving Penn State was difficult for Brown, who felt personal loyalties toward the university he had spent his childhood dreaming of playing for.
In the end, Brown just wanted to play football. He realized the only way to make football about football again, was to start anew somewhere far away from the turmoil which had tarnished his dream-come-true.
"When everything broke at Penn State, Oklahoma was one of the first schools to contact me. I didn't really entertain any other offers. When Oklahoma called, I thought it would be a benefit for me to make that move."
"It was tough to transition, but at the end of the day football is football. I was exposed to a lot of different styles in the last year and half, but it's part of the business. You have to learn to adapt and learn from different people"
"It was difficult at first getting used to a different style of play. The Big Ten is more physical and run-oriented than the Big 12. Oklahoma was receiver friendly."
Brown battled his decision through summer classes, joining the Sooners one-week into training camp. However, he made short work of the gap between his teammates and himself. Brown impressed his coaches with his flexibility and work ethic, earning an immediate starting job.
At 6-3, Brown is the third largest receiver on the Steelers off-season roster, giving him a size advantage in addition to his experience with change. Like fellow rookie, defensive back Terry Hawthorne, Pittsburgh sees potential in young Brown if they can polish his fundamentals by the end of training camp. He does not share Wheaton's field stretching speed, but Brown has exhibited a proficiency for making plays after the catch despite being a bit slower.
Not considered a strong contender to break the final roster, Brown's ability to adapt and lack of character concerns will almost assuredly make him a practice squad lock if he shows the same progression as he did at Oklahoma. However, there is no ceiling for this rookie. Brown has a legitimate shot of supplanting his young teammates and possibly a veteran.
One more thing which will play into Brown's favor, is his late draft selection. While Wheaton may not practice with the first-team, he will most likely see his action with the second; leaving Brown to work with the third-team which is expected to be led by Landry Jones, Brown's quarterback from Oklahoma. If Brown can continue the chemistry he has already developed with Jones, he could see a significant share of Jones' targets.
If Brown can continue to put football above all else, he could become a long-term fixture in Pittsburgh, like another Brown drafted in the sixth-round.