Showboating rookie earns vets' respect

Steelers rookie Antonio Brown is listed as the team's No. 1 return man, and he's preparing as such for the opener Sunday at Heinz Field.

PITTSBURGH – At Wednesday's practice, rookie wide receiver Antonio "Point First Down" Brown wove through defenders down the practice field after a catch and, after entering the end zone, stopped to pose for a TV camera.

Brown raised the ball as if he were Santonio Holmes scoring against the Ravens, then dropped it.

He left it 70 yards from everyone else, so a ball boy had to jog down the field to retrieve it as players jeered Brown and one of his coaches erupted.

It's little wonder Bryant McFadden knocked Brown on his butt with a wicked hit over the middle during the same practice.

"If you want to catch a pass and showboat, it's cool," said McFadden. "But just remember, when we get a chance to get a little shot on you, we're going to take one that we wouldn't usually take."

McFadden then paused and smiled.

"But I must say," McFadden continued, "the kid gets up and keeps coming. We respect that."

It might be better to understand Brown if he were from, oh, the University of Miami instead of Central Michigan. The rookie fits the stereotype of a demonstrative receiver with "Cane" pedigree. In fact, as a Miami kid, Brown grew up adoring the born-to-gloat Hurricanes.

"Yeah, I loved the Hurricanes," Brown admitted. "I'm from Miami and we all loved the U. Growing up with that tradition with Michael Irvin and all the great players down there, I loved the U. But I think taking the road I took made me prepare a lot. By going away, you see different things and you grow as a man."

Brown was passed over by Miami because of his poor academic standing. But even after Brown raised his test scores over the course of a year at a North Carolina prep school, Miami didn't come around.

No one, in fact, was interested in Brown, except Central Michigan, and they only offered him a chance to walk on. But two weeks after he showed up, they gave him a scholarship.

"I just came out and made plays and showed a lot of people what I could do," Brown explained. "Kind of like what happened here."

At CMU, Brown was a record-setting receiver and return man before leaving a year early. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Steelers, who've put up with his showboating antics because they like his explosiveness with the ball.

Brown tied fellow rookie Emmanuel Sanders for the team lead in preseason receptions with 9. Brown also scored two touchdowns – one on a 68-yard catch-and-run.

Two days before the opener, Brown is listed as the Steelers' No. 1 return man on their depth chart. But because Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wants his large rookie class to continue to compete for jobs throughout the first half of the season, he hasn't told Brown whether he or Sanders will return kicks against Atlanta.

"I'd rather know," Brown said. "I've got a lot of people coming from Florida and I'm trying to be in the best situation.

"I'll just prepare as if I'm the guy so I'm ready."

Brown returned a team-high 7 punts this preseason for a team-high average of 11.4. He also returned 3 kickoffs for a team-high average of 24.7. So Brown's not only No. 1 in his mind, but also on the stat sheet. It's left him feeling excited about Sunday's opener.

"I'm very excited," he said. "It's really exciting to be a part of something this special. I was like a kid in college watching the Steelers every Sunday. I'm humbled to get the opportunity."

Humbled? Well, that could be a first for Brown, who acts like a "Cane" even though his college jersey said "Chippewa."

"A lot of players fall through the cracks in Miami," Brown said. "Miami's a big city. There are a lot of distractions. But if you look, a lot of kids go away and grow and get better and have a better life. You know what I mean?"

NOTES – LG Chris Kemoeatu missed Thursday's practice with a sore left ankle. He expects to play Sunday.

Steel City Insider Top Stories