With Cotchery Gone, It’s Antonio Brown’s Time To Lead

The Pittsburgh Steelers withstood their sixth free agent loss of the offseason thus far when veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery elected to accept an offer with the wideout-starved Carolina Panthers rather than return to Pittsburgh.

Before him were the departures of defensive linemen Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, running back Jonathan Dwyer, tight end David Johnson, and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

The on-field production can be replaced. The football aspects of a free agent departure can always be replicated, albeit not always easily.

It’s the other, less tangible qualities that are more difficult to replace, and that is the bigger issue when it comes to the Steelers losing out on Cotchery, who is returning ‘home’ to where he played his college ball and met his wife.

He only spent three years in Pittsburgh, but Cotchery was still a presence on the team, particularly among the wide receivers, and he helped bridge a substantial gap in leadership with the retirement of Hines Ward after his first season with the team.

Cotchery, of course, shared many of the same characteristics that Ward was loved for.

From his blue-collar mentality to his willingness to take the big hit to make the tough catch, from getting his nose dirty blocking on screens or running plays to taking the younger receivers under his wing and teaching them what he knows, Cotchery and Ward were of the same mentality, and from the same breed.

And their presence came at a critical time, when the Steelers were turning over the wide receiver room to the next generation of players, starting with Mike Wallace, and then adding in Sanders and Antonio Brown.

It wasn’t long before Ward was getting passed on the depth chart, and Cotchery spent his entire tenure in Pittsburgh behind at least two of them.

But in many ways they remained the heart of the unit. They were the old guard, the carriers of wisdom and life lessons. The influence that “Uncle” Cotchery had on the young Markus Wheaton in his rookie season last year has been documented on a number of occasions, for example, describing himself as Cotchery’s shadow in reference to how he was constantly in his ear soaking up his words.

That certainly is an intangible that can’t simply be replaced. But perhaps it’s time to pass the torch.

This is now Antonio Brown’s wide receiver room. It’s his time to become the leader, to become the example, the carrier of wisdom for the young receiving corps taking shape behind him with Wheaton, Derek Moye, Justin Brown, and likely a new draft pick or two.

He may be just turning 26-years old, but he is a two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. He has twice made league history in his first four seasons in the league. He already works harder at his craft than anybody else in the locker room.

After a 110-reception, 1499-yard, eight-touchdown All-Pro season, is he ready to transfer some of the lessons that he’s learned, both through his own experience and through the experience of others, to those below him on the depth chart? Can he be the leader that Jerricho Cotchery, that Hines Ward was for him? I think it’s about time to find out the answer.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    There is one thing I wont ever worry about and it’s him leading by example, his workout regime and dedication to his body and his craft is evident to all around him. Wheaton seems very comparable in that regard, maybe not quite a strict of a workout routine because not many do, but definitely the dedication to his craft

    Now, will A.Brown be the ‘vocal’ leader of the room, one would hope so

  • AndyR34

    Time will tell…but, how much “wisdom” does he have to pass along after 4 seasons? Are the listeners going to listen? Why wasn’t Wheaton listening to Brown last year? If they sign a FA, is he going to recognize/acknowledge that Brown is the “leader”? Brown does a pitiful job blocking…how is he going to get other WR’s to do it?

  • PA2AK

    Perfect response to this, steeltown

  • PA2AK

    Leading doesn’t always revolve around teaching either. He’s already going to lead by example…we just have to see if he embraces his new role. Who knows if a FA WR will even be signed? The blocking…maybe a coach thing? Valid concerns, but I’d say minor as well, imo

  • Derick L Young

    “Why wasn’t Wheaton listening to Brown last year?”
    What do you mean?

  • steeltown

    Its the coaches job to get the WRs to improve their blocking skills

  • Shannon Stephenson

    OK Antonio this is all we want you to do…being we only sign guys who have no relevance at all and guys who we overpay for but only if they are eligible for social security we need you to step up and do just a little bit more.
    1. Play #1 WR spot
    2. Play the slot
    3. Be our new red zone target
    4. Coach to the younger guys
    5. Return punts
    6. Return Kick offs
    7. Be a mentor
    Thats all for now…stay tuned for more.

  • dkoy85

    Yeah I think we all figured you’re a glass half empty guy- I often wonder how you guys make it through life… Anyways, what Brown presence alone will prove is he knows what it takes, being an undersized 6th round draft pick, to have an all-pro year, be 2nd in the year in yardage, break NFL records, etc. The rookies and young guys will listen to him. I hope he realizes it, and I expect him to.

  • Ken

    My thoughts exactly he is already doing everything. its not something new he needs to do. he already is.

  • Ken

    He already is and has been…

  • Will Hammer

    Lets not panic here, we didn’t lose Swan or Hines .. Lets wait until the draft is over and I’ll bet the Steelers take care of this position … either with a draft choice or a FA ,or both ..

  • Tom

    I hope he becomes that leader….rather than being the immature punk who ran the last 35 yards (on called back TD return) backwards taunting the Redskins in 2012.