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Notebook: Steelers WRs Tearing It Up

The Steelers have more than Antonio Brown at wide receiver. Much more. And here are updates on Bell, Villanueva and Watt.

PITTSBURGH -- Minicamp's continuing along like the rest of the spring for the Pittsburgh Steelers' wide receivers, who keep making one big catch after another.

That goes for the entire depth chart.

"All the way down," said cornerback Artie Burns. "And I do mean all the way down. Justin Hunter was a starter on the teams he played for and he made plays. Even the guys who just came into the league are pretty good, too."

Hunter made a big catch of a deep Ben Roethlisberger pass on Tuesday. So did Canaan Severin. And Sammie Coates may never have held on to as many passes as he has this month. 

Richard Mann said earlier this spring that he came back for one final year to coach the wide receivers because they provide him the opportunity for another ring. Mann won one as the Tampa Bay receivers coach in 2002, but he called his group in Cleveland from 1986-91 the best he's had. Until maybe now.

"That was a good crew," Mann said of Webster Slaughter, Reggie Langhorne and Brian Brennan. "This group I think is a little deeper, but, again, we haven't seen some of the guys play real football yet."

The trio of Slaughter-Langhorne-Brennan averaged a combined 136 receptions, 1,938 yards and 10 touchdowns per season -- or nearly identical to the numbers Antonio Brown put up in 2015: 136-1,834-10.

Brown lined up opposite Martavis Bryant most of that season, but was without him last season as Brown's numbers slipped to 106-1,284-12.

The star receivers obviously complement each other, and Bryant is back from suspension bigger, stronger and faster than at any point in his life. Mann has noticed.

"He's picking up right where he left off," Mann said. "We just have to get him back in the groove of everything. I think he's kind of fit back in real nicely. Hasn't lost a lot when it comes to the system. He still knows it, so that's a good thing. He didn't lose any of that. And there are a couple of things we had to pick up on, but I've been very pleased so far."

Mann said off the field, Bryant has "matured a lot, a little different personality-wise, which is a good thing." And Mann's goal in the next two days is to give Bryant a workload for the ensuing five weeks leading up to training camp.

Coates represents another noticeable change in the front-line receiving group. The third-year receiver played with a broken index finger last season and caught only four passes for 48 yards in the final 12 games, counting the playoffs. But he's been catching just about everything this spring.

"Yeah, a lot better," Mann said. "I think his finger's healed. It's crooked but it don't hurt."

Coates earlier that day had reeled in a deep ball from Roethlisberger that put a charge in the offense.

"He dropped one he should've had, right here, and he came back and made a great catch down there," Mann said as he pointed to the end zone. "A good football player always bounces back. That's what I try to instill in him, and I'm starting to see some of that in him."

OFFENSIVE ONLY LACKS BELL

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has that dangerous pack of receivers to go along with Pro Bowlers at quarterback, running back and two spots on an intact offensive line. Does he lack for anything on this offense?

"No, I'm really excited about this group," Haley said. "The only thing is we have a long way to go. We have to get to Latrobe, get the pads on, make it through that healthy and having developed some physicality, and then we can talk more."

Of course, the Steelers are currently without Le'Veon Bell, who has yet to sign his franchise tender and stayed home to recover from offseason groin surgery.

Does Haley have any doubt that Bell will report for training camp?

"I'm not worried about it. I'm really not," Haley said. "He was in the other day (and) I got to talk to him a little bit. He's a great kid and I think he'll be ready to go."

The other potential holdout is left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

"He's out here so we're coaching the heck out of him," Haley said. "I'm not in that position any more where I have to worry about that contract stuff. I just coach the heck out of the guys who are here and try to get better."

VILLANUEVA ON NEGOTIATIONS

Villanueva has yet to sign his exclusive rights tender but did sign a waiver to practice this spring. He was asked if he has "a number in mind" for his ongoing negotiation.

"No, I don't have anything," Villanueva said. "I don't know anything about this. I really don't focus about contracts. I come from very little money. I spent most of my time in the military so I'm very institutionalized about the way I spend money. My agent will make a decision and he'll let me know. He's a very smart guy and I trust him. He's the guy that I trusted when I got cut from Philly and he taught me the steps of how to get back on my feet. 

"It's not a fun process. It's not something that I like to go through. I hate being the center of attention on such a stupid topic, but at the end of the day there's not a lot of things that are very exciting going on in OTAs and you guys have to write about something. But I don't think about this at all. I'm a very small part of this team. Everybody else in this building needs as much attention because they contribute to the team's effort just as much. The team is very successful and will make whatever decision they have to make. 

"From my end, I've been extremely fortunate to be where I'm at. I've been to Afghanistan three times and a lot of service members have died next to me protecting my life, and so for me to be here is a blessing. I've won 10 lotteries already. If I get a percentage of a lottery on top, it is what it is. And if not, then it's something that I can live with. 

"Again, I'm not the best at making decisions but I feel very comfortable making decisions. It's a process. I am very thankful for the Steelers and everything they've done for me. I've been very thankful of their treatment. They've always been extremely respectful. The only thing I can do is show them respect back by trying to be here and contribute the best I can."

VILLANUEVA ON WATT

Third-round draft pick Cameron Sutton agreed to a four-year deal Tuesday and left first-round pick T.J. Watt as the Steelers' last unsigned rookie.

"That's not a problem at all with me," said Watt. "Right now I'm just playing football and doing the best that I can on the field."

How exactly has he been doing?

Left tackle Villanueva, who's blocked Watt -- the first-team right outside linebacker -- at every spring practice, provided a rave review.

"In terms of going against first-year players -- like going against guys from the Browns and first-round picks from other teams -- he doesn't make mistakes. That's rare and very impressive," Villanueva said. "He knows how to disguise the plays. He knows his responsibilities. Then the second thing is he plays with a lot of confidence. And he plays very well with his hands. He understands protections and the offensive line so he shows a lot of maturity that you don't usually see. He's also a guy who's using moves. He's not just relying on athleticism. He's a  very athletic kid but he's not relying on it. He's really putting thought into the game, so I've had a lot of fun going against him for the past month.

"It's not easy coming in and not knowing what to expect, but he's just come in here and worked really hard. He doesn't take a play off. It's annoying to go against a guy like that, but he knows that it's one of his strengths, like his brother, relentless. He's got high expectations and works really hard. Because of that I predict that he's going to be a very, very successful player in the NFL."


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