Steelers receiver Justin Brown continues to progress in workouts
Antonio Brown was a sixth-round draft selection by the Steelers, just like Justin Brown.
Antonio Brown had established veterans ahead of him on the depth chart heading into his second season, just like Justin Brown does this year.
However, there is one glaring difference between the two — Antonio Brown, who went on to surpass 1,000 yards receiving by his second season — never got the opportunity Justin Brown is getting this spring.
“No, no, not this early on,” Antonio Brown said.
The Steelers took a good look at Justin Brown during the recently completed three weeks of spring practices by giving him first-team reps alongside Antonio Brown and Lance Moore before ramping up the frequency with the top unit by the end of the sessions. He's worked at all three positions with the first-team reps coming in three receiver sets.
Heading into the final stretch of offseason workouts cumulating with a three-day minicamp starting Tuesday, it could be much of the same for the 6-foot-3 receiver who spent all 17 weeks of his rookie season last year on the practice squad.
“It is definitely good getting some reps with the ones,” Brown said. “When my number is called, I am just trying make sure that I ready and I know what I am doing. I've noticed (the Steelers taking a long look at him), and it's definitely encouraging.”
No one expects Justin Brown to have a jump from obscurity to a 1,000-yard season in a year like Antonio Brown, but the Steelers want to see if he's capable. There is a need at the position after losing 113 catches and 16 touchdowns from a year ago when the defections of free agents Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.
“I feel like I have been trying to better my game,” Brown said. “I am trying to go hard every day and show the coaches that I have been working hard. But as I said, I still have a ways to go.”
The Steelers brought in two free agent receivers (Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey); three receivers who were in another camp last year (Danny Coale, Lanear Simpson, Kashif Moore); drafted one in the fourth round (Martavis Bryant); and added a rookie the second week of OTAs (C.J. Goodwin) in the hopes of finding someone who could fill out the position.
Derek Moye and Markus Wheaton are holdovers from last year, but they have a combined eight catches between them. The Steelers would like to see Wheaton, a third-round pick last year, assert himself, but the speedy receiver was slowed by a finger injury last year and has been kept out of team drills at times this spring, thus giving Brown an unexpected opportunity.
“Justin is doing some great things,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I just like that he keeps working to get better and every day you see improvement from him.”
Brown made plenty of plays after transferring from Penn State to Oklahoma for his senior year amid the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Brown equaled the amount of catches he had at Oklahoma in one year (73) and nearly doubled the touchdowns catches (five) compared to what he had all three years at Penn State.
Brown finished with 879 yards — eighth in the nation — his only year at Oklahoma with Landry Jones, now a backup with the Steelers, as his quarterback.