Under normal circumstances, it’s probably pretty unlikely that the Pittsburgh Steelers would carry six wide receivers on their 53-man roster. The last time they’d done so was when Arnaz Battle was signed to be a lead special teams player. If I’m not mistaken, he never even played on offense during the regular season.
But the Steelers have a couple of interesting players at the bottom of their wide receiver depth chart this year in veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey and second-year wide receiver Justin Brown, who spent his rookie season on the practice squad.
Specifically, they’re both bigger receivers with a more complete game, with the ability to play a variety of positions on the field.
They also possess the ability and demeanor to contribute to the offense without the ball in their hands, by blocking. The pair got a chance to show that off in the final preseason game, since both received extended playing time.
The Steelers opened the game with a three-receiver set, with Markus Wheaton, one of their under-six-foot starting receivers, taking the opening play for an end around of 15 yards. Heyward-Bey was lined up out wide on the far side of the play, where Wheaton took the ball, and you can see him blocking down on Thomas DeCoud at the end of the play.
Two plays later, we got a good look at both Heyward-Bey and Brown on the outside blocking the perimeter defenders on a carry by Will Johnson up the middle. Both receivers kept their men out of the play nicely.
Opening the second quarter, the Steelers offense was backed deep into their own territory, but in a second and two situation. Wheaton was lined up on the left side, away from the action, with Brown on the right, who came up to stick to cornerback James Dockery.
Midway through the second quarter, after recovering a fumble, a holding call pushed the Steelers back into a second and 18 situation. The Steelers were only able to muster a few yards on the ground on the play, but it’s a good example of Brown’s willingness to get into a defender’s face, angering Charles Godfrey enough to elicit a shove. It’s usually a good sign when the person you’re blocking is aggravated.
Lest we forget, a player like Brown is still far down the depth chart. Typically, that means that if he gets a helmet on game day, he’ll need to be a special teams contributor, and he showed on this punt late in the second half that he could contribute as a jammer.
As a final example, we have one last look at Heyward-Bey as a blocker. A third of the way into the third quarter, Heyward-Bey was lined up at the top of the play on a run left by running back Josh Harris. He saw safety Tom Nelson sneaking up to the line to time the snap, but he was able to intercept him and allowed Harris to reach the corner, even if he gained only two yards.