Antonio Brown doesn’t think the Pittsburgh Steelers need Mike Wallace for them to have a Mike Wallace-type threat.
The way the fourth-year wide receiver looks at it, he can handle the job himself.
Brown is the unquestioned No. 1 guy in Pittsburgh after the speedy Wallace bolted to Miami as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, which means more pressure, greater expectations, and additional attention from defensive backs.
Brown doesn’t mind. He expects to elevate his game to new heights.
“Every year is a year to improve and get better,” Brown said. “This league is we’re in is ‘what have you done lately,’ and that’s the approach we take. It only matters and counts right now.”
Brown is taking more of a leadership role this season. He’s never been the vocal type, always allowing his actions on his field to do the talking, and that much hasn’t changed for the hard-working Brown, who has dazzled during training camp practices at St. Vincent College.
But he’s embracing the opportunity to lead his group this season.
“He’s still doing what he does, and he’s constantly trying to get better,” said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, a 10-year veteran. “He comes in, works hard, and doesn’t take days off. It’s been the same way since I’ve been here. I see that same approach.”
That drive has fueled Brown ever since the Steelers used their second of two sixth-round picks to draft the former Central Michigan product in 2010.
Now, the challenge is to step up in Wallace’s absence.
Brown, with more than 2,000 yards in three seasons, certainly has big play, deep threat ability, but he won’t be asked to replace Wallace’s blazing speed that produced 32 touchdowns, more than 4,000 yards receiving and a 17.2 yards-per-catch average.
“Ever since he was a rookie, he’s come in and made plays,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “I feel like people put a lot of hype on making that big jump. He has to continue to be himself. He doesn’t have to try and be something he’s not.”
Brown earned a five-year, $42 million extension after a breakout second season in 2011, becoming the first player in NFL history to finish with at least 1,000 receiving and return yards in the same year. He was named team MVP, earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and set a single-season franchise record with 2,211 all-purpose yards.
Brown’s extension was a vote of confidence for the young wide receiver’s future as a Steeler and a bold statement to Wallace, a training camp holdout, who was embroiled in a heated contract dispute with the team.
Brown answered the call in 2012 with an explosive start to the season, pulling in 42 passes for 499 yards as the Steelers opened the year with five wins in their first eight games.
“He had a heck of a start,” Cotchery said. “In his second year, he just blew it out of the water, and usually when you blow it out of the water, people see you’re legit, so he started getting some attention.”
A high-ankle sprain against the New York Giants hampered the rest of Brown’s season, forcing him to miss three games. He caught touchdowns in each of the team’s final four games, but struggled with 230 yards as the Steelers dropped three of those contests.
“It set him back from being the type of player that he is,” Cotchery said. “He’s a dynamic guy, cutting and doing all of the little things. He’s so explosive. That held him back a little bit and obviously as an offense we need that from him.”
The disappointing end to 2012 is in the past. Brown is healthy now and looks forward to the opportunity to step in as the Steelers’ No. 1 wide receiver.