Pittsburgh Steelers second-year wide receiver Justin Brown had a strong spring, getting in reps with the first-team offense and plenty of friendly write-ups from the sports writers and bloggers who witnessed his growth in OTAs and minicamp.
But he also remembered that he started to fade a couple weeks into training camp last season, following a fine start in the first preseason game, and those memories helped drive him to keep pushing during the off time until training camp.
Scott Brown writes for ESPN that Brown got together with All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown to train for a few weeks between minicamp and training camp, wanting to get a feel for his notorious work ethic.
And to hear the veteran Brown tell the story, he paid for that knowledge in exhaustion, claiming that the 6’3” former sixth-rounder “fell asleep” after a couple days of his intensive style of training.
The two Browns, though separated by five inches in height and about 25 pounds, do share a few similarities in terms of how they came into the league.
Both receivers came in a draft class following key departures of a starting wide receiver. In the elder Brown’s case, it was Santonio Holmes. The younger Brown was drafted in part to help rebuild the wide receiver depth chart following Mike Wallace’s free agency defection.
Neither receiver, however, came in that draft class as the headliner at his position. Emmanuel Sanders was taken in the third round in 2010 and received most of the playing time among rookie wide receivers that year. Markus Wheaton was also taken in the third round a year ago, and while he received some playing time, the younger Brown spent his rookie year on the practice squad.
The All-Pro Brown, also a sixth-round pick, parlayed his early experiences as a rookie into a strong sophomore campaign, during which he gradually emerged as a starter, surpassing Sanders on the depth chart.
Justin Brown probably won’t be passing Wheaton, who is entering the starting lineup this year across from Antonio. But he seems determined to make the 53-man roster this year after being left out as a rookie.
“I think he’s really motivated and hungry about getting an opportunity to play”, Antonio told Scott Brown.
The ESPN reporter also writes that Justin Brown is “much more confident this year after feeling his way through training camp last year”, during which Derek Moye was able to use his experience in the league to climb the depth chart and seize the last wide receiver position on the roster.
While he himself sees the growth that he’s made since last year, however, he’s not taking anything for granted, especially after the Steelers brought in more wide receivers through the draft and free agency this year.
“Just knowing more has allowed me to play faster”, he said of the difference between then and now, but he added that “it still comes down to going out and making plays and that’s what I’ve got to do”. He’s been doing that so far, and he put in the extra time with his All-Pro teammate to learn what it takes to be a professional, but he knows he can’t afford to slip.