Snapshot: Justin Brown
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Snapshot: Justin Brown

It's been a whirlwind year for Steelers rookie wide receiver Justin Brown, and Dale Lolley has the breakdown for SCI.net:

It has been a whirlwind year for Justin Brown.

First, the star receiver at Penn State decided to transfer last August following NCAA sanctions placed on the team as part of the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Brown landed at Oklahoma, where he became a key cog in an offense that included a Heisman Trophy candidate, Landry Jones, at quarterback.

Finally, Brown landed back in Pennsylvania – along with Jones, a fourth-round draft pick – when the Steelers selected him in the sixth round of this year's draft.

That's a lot of ground to cover for a young man in 12 months. And it taught Brown a lot.

"It was definitely an experience, not knowing anything about Oklahoma," said Brown, a native of Wilmington, Delaware. "It was tough leaving all of my teammates at Penn State. But it was what was best for me. It worked out for the best because everyone in Oklahoma was really accepting, Landry (Jones), the coaches. Those guys accepted me and brought me along so that I could contribute."

For Brown, the decision to leave Penn State was a difficult one. But with other coaches openly recruiting players on campus following the NCAA's decision to allow Penn State players to leave the school without having to sit out a year, things became a bit more strange in State College.

"Some other schools contacted me, but I wasn't just going to go to any other school and definitely not a school in conference," Brown said. "Those schools in conference were a little disrespectful. I went to Oklahoma just knowing the history of the program and the program itself.

"It got crazy, especially coaches in conference. I'm not going to name any names, but they were waiting in parking lots, knocking on doors at apartments. It was a wild period for a little bit."

Oklahoma hadn't recruited Brown in high school, but the reputation of the school's football program, the coaching staff and the opportunity to play with a quarterback as talented as Jones were too good to pass up.

Despite the late transfer, Brown made an immediate impact with the Sooners, catching 73 passes for 879 yards and 5 touchdowns, all career bests. He also continued to excel at something he started doing at Penn State, returning punts. Brown averaged a career-best 13.9 yards per punt return in 2012, including one he returned for a touchdown.

It wouldn't be that uncommon for a star college receiver, except that Brown is 6-3, 209 pounds, not exactly the kind of receiver which comes to mind when thinking of speedy punt returners.

Brown began returning punts at Penn State by accident.

"I actually was at Penn State my freshman year and the coaches pulled all the starters out," Browns said. "Our running back and safety were our No. 1 and 2 punt returners. It was to the point where nobody knew who was going in. Joe (Paterno) was screaming, ‘Get somebody in there.' I just ran out on the field and did it. After I did the first one, I got about 15 yards and Joe let me do it the rest of the year. I've been doing it ever since."

His return ability was definitely an attractive aspect of his game. Just as important for the Steelers was adding a young, skilled receiver with some size.

"I think he has good toughness and that's part of being a good receiver," said Steelers receivers coach Richard Mann. "He'll lock up downfield and I think that is a part of it also. On top of it all, he's a good receiver. He can catch the football. Big target."

Brown was only too happy to be coming back east after spending the past year explaining to people in Oklahoma exactly where Delaware is located.

"It's good to be back here and be around where my family is only a few hours away," Brown said. "I think football in Delaware period, people take a lot of pride in those who make it out and go D-1 because not a lot of people respect Delaware football or even really know a lot about it. There's always people on the team saying stuff like, ‘I don't even know where Delaware is on the map.' I got that a lot in Oklahoma. They didn't know where Delaware was.

"You have a chip on your shoulder to prove that we can compete with the best, too."

Brown would do well to continue to play with that chip on his shoulder if he hopes to make the Steelers' 53-man roster. Starters Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are set, while third-round pick Markus Wheaton would seem to have another spot locked up. That leaves Brown competing with veterans Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery and David Gilreath, along with several others for two, possibly three, spots on the roster.

Perhaps everything he's been through in the past year will help him stay focused.

"It was way tougher. There was a lot more at stake," Brown said of his decision to leave Penn State compared to choosing to go there in the first place, or waiting to see where he would go in the draft.

"You're with those guys all year long, working out, going to class with them. When you're playing football, those are like your brothers. I made sure I talked to every one of my teammates and made sure. Once they gave me the OK, that was when I was comfortable making my decision. I wasn't just going to go without talking to anybody and just leave. I felt like I owed that to them.

"It was a tough transition at first, getting acclimated to the style of play and just the area," he continued. "I come from back east with mountains and cold weather. There, it doesn't go below 60. It was tough getting used to that. But the people, the town, the students, everyone worked hard to make me feel comfortable. It's been very similar with the Steelers."

(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)