Antonio Brown never takes a day off. He won’t let himself. It’s not in his DNA. He is perpetual motion, sometimes attacking things physically with workouts, other times mentally challenging himself, always looking for ways to improve.
“As an individual you always think about what you could have done better, you weigh in on it and how you could get better for this year,” said Brown.
It’s kind of hard to imagine what Brown could have done better last year. He stepped in as the team’s number one receiver, replacing Mike Wallace who signed with the Miami Dolphins, and flourished. Brown finished the season setting a Steelers single season record with 1,499 yards receiving, surpassing Yancey Thigpen’s record of 1,398 set in 1997 and also passing the likes of John Stallworth and Hines Ward along the way.
“It’s always a challenge and you know your game has to be at a high level,” said Brown of being the number one receiver. “Defenses and teams are coming into stadiums to take you out. Everyone is looking to me to be the leader and definition of what it’s like to be the Steelers number one receiver.”
He continued to define the role adding a career-high 110 receptions, second in Steelers history for receptions in a season and just two behind Ward who had 112 in 2002. He had at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards in all 16 games to become the first player in NFL history to accomplish that in a 16 game regular season. He had a career-high 12 receptions against Minnesota in London and a career-high 196 yards receiving against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 22 at Heinz Field, the yardage tied for sixth-most in team history for a single game.
“It’s motivating to set the standard up,” said Brown. “You always want to be better than those that came before you. I acknowledge the ones that came before me and understand the legacy.”
It’s a legacy he embraces. When he was voted MVP by his teammates for a second time this year, he joined the ranks of some pretty prestigious players to win MVP honors multiple times, including Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Jack Lambert and Rod Woodson, as well as some other all-time greats.
“That is humbling. I am thankful for it,” said Brown. “I know every year I am here I am challenging myself to make a mark. I am here to lay the foundation of who I am and what I stood for. Hopefully whoever comes behind me will do the same.
“You have to make yourself aware of the players that came before you and did it. You have to know where you came from to know where you are going. It’s always amazing to look and see what they have done and motivate myself.”
That motivation already has Brown itching for the 2014 season to roll around. He loved what the offense did, especially in the second half of the season, the way they kept fighting and growing.
“We made some great strides,” said Brown. “Over the course of adversity we didn’t put our heads down or dwell on what people were saying. We continued to be an offense on the rise, continued to get better. It’s going to be great to build on that this offseason.”
Brown weighed in on a handful of other topics, with his thoughts below.
On the no-huddle offense: “It’s going to be tremendous for us. Any time we can get out and start fast and get a team off rhythm and off beat, allowing Ben (Roethlisberger) to call his reads and read the defense, not allowing the defense to get their calls in, is a positive for us. The earlier we start the better we will be at it.”
On his work ethic: “It’s just about my attitude. It speaks volumes when you go out and put the work in and encourage others. You bring energy to the group and people feed off that energy. A lot of times we are tired and beat down and we still have to push forward.”
On the emergence of the running game as the 2013 season progressed: “It was exciting. We know when Le’Veon (Bell) is healthy he is a great running back. We know he can help us out catching a pass, running a route. It’s going to be great to get him here in the spring and hopefully he will be able to start off early with everyone. That is going to be a great asset for us.”
On what it means to him to play for the Steelers: “It means everything. Any time I can come to work and see six Lombardi Trophies, be part of great ownership that really cares about their players, play for a great head coach in Mike Tomlin, and play with one of the great quarterbacks and future Hall of Famer in Ben Roethlisberger. That is what it’s all about, being a part of something special. Any time I can be a part of that it’s special to me.”