Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said at the beginning of training camp none of the Pittsburgh Steelers' young receivers needed to fill Mike Wallace's speedy shoes. Antonio Brown is looking to replace Wallace's shoes with his own, by just being himself.
Wallace's 2012 preseason holdout and eventual departure for the Miami Dolphins came as a surprise to many after being the Steelers leading receiver statistically during his tenure with the team. However, the Steelers were looking for a leading receiver who could actually lead, both on and off the field. The Steelers made their choice by offering the lucrative contract extension to Brown instead.
Brown took that ball, and has been running with it ever since.
The Intelligencer ran a recent feature on Brown and his quick rise to the top of the depth chart and how he got there.
"Every year is a year to improve and get better. This league we're in is 'what have you done lately,' and that's the approach we take. It only matters and counts right now."
Brown has learned to take nothing for granted. He was the first player to begin training at the team's practice facility this off-season, arriving right after watching division rival the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl. It wasn't the fact the Ravens had won which burned inside of him. It was the fact the Steelers were eliminated from contention before the playoffs even began.
He knew the only way to beat the other guy was to outwork him -- the same philosophy which led the Steelers to six franchise championships. This mindset is what now is referred to coyly as 'the Steeler Way' or 'the Standard'. Brown's dedication has not gone unnoticed by his peers or his elders.
"He's still doing what he does, and he's constantly trying to get better. He comes in, works hard, and doesn't take days off. It's been the same way since I've been here. I see that same approach." - Jerricho Cotchery
"The sky is the limit. He can be as good as he wants to be. I have seen growth in him and improvements, and that is what we want to see. He has come along as a number-one guy." - Ben Roethlisberger
"Ever since he was a rookie, he's come in and made plays. I feel like people put a lot of hype on making that big jump. He has to continue to be himself. He doesn't have to try and be something he's not." - Emmanuel Sanders
The big jump referred to by Sanders was the 2,000 yard season Brown posted in his second professional season - a thousand as a receiver and another thousand returning kicks. The team realized from his performance he was a legit NFL receiver, which inspired enough confidence in the organization to part ways with the disgruntled Wallace.
While the team may miss Wallace's 'game-changing' speed, Brown brings to the organization something Wallace did not - a team first mentality. Brown has already made public his want to retire with the Steelers organization in only his fourth NFL season. He was the first one to start training, and he has often been the last one off the practice field. He has often been spied catching passes from the jugs machine, or working with rookies like J.D. Woods on technique. Brown is making sure he and his receivers are up to the task whoever they might be when roster decisions must be made; because they are 'his' receivers now.
In the end, it is this leading mentality which represents the difference between Brown and Wallace better than just 40-yard dash times, and why the team chose to pay one member of the 'young money crew' over the other.
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