The cornerback was one of the bright spots for the Steelers in their last public practice at Saint Vincent College. In the team's two-minute drill, the rookie went to the air, leaping to swat down a Dennis Dixon pass in the corner of the end zone. He followed that up with tight coverage on Limas Sweed during a free play for the offense (a defender had jumped offside). The corner shined again in scrimmage, blanketing Tyler Grisham on a deep attempt from Charlie Batch.
Brown was pleased with his efforts after a camp which saw the rookie injured on the sidelines more often than he was on the field.
"Well, I missed a lot," said Brown. "These last three days were basically about my conditioning – getting back running and things. So I think I'm doing pretty good just now coming back. But the whole camp, I was taking advantage of that down time to learn the playbook even more and just try to stay focused and do whatever I can to help the team."
With four corners – Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, Crezdon Butler, and Cortez Allen – all on the shelf for Thursday's game against the Eagles, the rookie will be called upon often in what will be his first preseason game.
"It's just the opportunity for me to get out there and play and show what I can do," Brown said. "It is my first NFL game, so I'm anxious. I just gotta take my time and get used to the game because it's gonna be a different speed out there than it is at practice. I'm just looking forward to going out there and competing, first of all, and whatever happens, happens."
OFFENSE WINS TWO-MINUTE: The offense won the two-minute drill with two separate scoring drives of nine plays or more, neither of which was orchestrated by Ben Roethlisberger.
Byron Leftwich took the reins of the first-team offense and used the combined efforts of Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, and Tyler Grisham to move the ball to the 25-yard line. After a tip by Lawrence Timmons, Leftwich found Brown again to move the chains. Two plays later, the quarterback found Mike Wallace, who took the ball to the 3-yard line with 15 seconds remaining. The touchdown was scored by Grisham, who snatched the ball while bending backward.
Dennis Dixon took the two-minute drill literally in his attempt, using every second of the clock to push the ball into the end zone. After a near interception by safety Will Allen, Dixon found Jerricho Cotchery on back-to-back attempts. One of the catches was a spinning grab in the middle of the field.
Sweed made an appearance and picked up a first down later in the drive, but missed on another chance to move the chains on a ball thrown slightly behind him. Dixon tried Sweed twice more only to get stoned by the rookie Brown. With two seconds remaining, the quarterback tossed a touchdown to Cotchery, the most reliable target in the drill.
Cotchery, despite only four days of work in the offense, quickly evolved into a favorite target for the second- and third-team units. The veteran has displayed sticky fingers and a knack for crisp route running that has left him wide open on a number of plays. Cotchery could end up being a boon for the team, even if the rest of the receivers stay healthy.
MENDENHALL BURNS: Rashard Mendenhall had a solid day on the turf at Saint Vincent and looked much quicker than usual. The back kicked things off in a drill that featured the linebackers matched in coverage against backs and tight ends with a shifty cut to sneak by Timmons.
Mendenhall squared off three more times against Timmons, all on deep routes. Mendenhall beat the linebacker on the first attempt, but the ball sailed through his hands. The second attempt wasn't even close. Mendenhall torched Timmons for an easy catch. The runner got the best of his teammate a third time, only to drop the pass while wide open.
Mendenhall also notched a highlight run during scrimmage. The back burst through the right side of the line and breezed into the second level and nearly outran safety Ryan Mundy for a touchdown.
While Mendenhall may need some stick-em, his burst is evident.
FIVE THINGS I LEARNED:
1. Hines Ward made the most memorable play of the last day of camp, diving to snag a bomb from Roethlisberger in the middle of the field.
2. New tight end Miguel Chavis made a play he'll hope the coaches forget. The converted defensive end made a nice grab with Chris Ellis in coverage, only to see linebacker Mortty Ivy knock the ball out of his hands frombehind. Hold on to the ball, Miguel.
3. Undrafted rookie Brett Greenwood had a strong day in the free safety spot, snagging an interception off Leftwich halfway through scrimmage. He's battling incumbent Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith for a practice squad spot.
4. Now that Cotchery is on board, and Grisham is still impressing, I struggle to see a scenario in which Arnaz Battle makes the team. He dropped another couple of balls Tuesday.
5. One of the monks at Saint Vincent, Father Paul, is actually sponsored by Nike. He roams the sidelines in a full black habit (essentially a robe for those who are unfamiliar) even on the hottest of days. A Nike rep contacted Father Paul about making a habit out of the company's dry-fit cloth, a project which became reality. Paul on why he insists on wearing his habit even on scorching afternoons: "I'm just afraid that there's going to be a place hotter than this waiting for me if I don't wear it."