clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Antonio Brown shows he's ready to take on leadership role

Regardless of who said what, one sign of outstanding leadership within a group is a unified voice. The Steelers have lacked that, among other things, the last three years.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Late in the fourth quarter on Sunday Night Football, former Steelers linebacker James Harrison stood up from his stance, looked back at his teammates with his arms in the air, as if to say "what are we doing?"

Former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote seemed confused, pointing different things to different players, no one seeming to understand what he was saying.

Troy Polamalu missed an interception. So did Foote. Ryan Clark failed to make it from center field to the corner to help out cornerback William Gay. Ravens receiver Torrey Smith finally caught a pass (he dropped four that night) and Baltimore completed the season sweep of defending AFC champion Pittsburgh with a late touchdown.

It's easy to compare skill of players and the declination of that skill from the 2010 Steelers to today is fairly obvious. But the lack of cohesion, it seemed, has dropped even further.

James Farrior wasn't playing in that game against the Ravens, and perhaps he could have gotten the defense on the same page in that final no-huddle drive. Maybe he could have gotten Harrison to rush the passer, or Clark to have been ready for that shallow fade. The Steelers were 12-4 that year but it wasn't a strong 12-4 - their opening-round loss to Denver suggests that's the case.

No Steelers player called each other out after the game for any reason. It's an interesting debate going over whether that same kind of result would yield a "move onto the next game" kind of attitude among today's team.

However it should be sliced, it's been clear the team has been in a transition mode over the last two seasons from a leadership standpoint. Whether Antonio Brown's recent comments should have been made, ironically, to the media, decrying former teammate Ryan Clark for bolstering his potential post-football media career, is only half the point. It shows that transition is now starting to bear fruit from seeds planted over the last two years of roster moves, drafts and difficult losses.

Leaders know how to speak the right way on the right topics - or to not speak at all. Brown's comments could be seen as too little, too late - a shallow action that really only confirms the same self-serving things he accuses Clark of making. Or, it could be seen as the team's most productive player in 2013 sending a message to the rest of the team that, despite the specifics of the past, that's no longer the way his locker room will go about its business.

It's naive to suggest conversations about marijuana and other social issues don't take place in the locker room. Some would argue a group cannot grow together positively without debate of social issues in an appropriate and healthy manner. But those conversations are best held in confidence. The fact Clark went public with them erodes the trust his teammates will give, not just to Clark, though, but to each other. That forces every member of that locker room to look inward, and probably not talk about such issues.

That hampers their internal communication, which limits their ability to grow together as a group.

If Brown's comments do nothing more than take the shine off the unspoken, and launch it into the forefront in the locker room, he should be applauded as the right kind of leader for that environment. If he's simply telling the team I'll take the power out of Clark's statements by acknowledging them with his name on it, so the media will look to him to speak on such topics from then on, the team should thank him.

Sure, he's got a few things to learn, like remembering leaders are judged 25/8/366, and his meltdown on the sideline yelling at offensive coordinator Todd Haley about getting him the ball can't be duplicated again. He was benched at the end of the Steelers' loss to New England because Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin didn't like his attitude. These are all teachable moments, though.

Brown's shoulders are big enough to take 110 catches, they must be big enough to carry the team from a PR perspective.