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Players focused on the Browns

Posted Dec 29, 2011

Come Sunday afternoon there will be a lot of Steelers fans watching the black and gold play the Cleveland Browns, while at the same time keeping a continuous eye on what’s happening in the Ravens-Bengals game.

But for Steelers’ players, their focus will be solely on the task at hand – and that is trying to win in Cleveland.

“We’ve got to first key in on what we have to do to win the game,” said Ziggy Hood. “When we start worrying about different scenarios, we forget about our own scenario.”

Hines Ward, who needs just five receptions for 1,000 career receptions, knows the Ravens game means nothing if the Steelers don’t take care of their own business.

“We definitely can’t be worried about what Baltimore’s doing,” said Ward. “All we can control is what we control. We put ourselves in the position to where we do need help. None of that matters if we don’t go out there and take care of business in Cleveland.”

* * *

Antonio Brown has grown by leaps and bounds since being drafted by the Steelers in the sixth round last year, and it’s that development and his production that had teammates vote him the Steelers MVP this year.

“It’s more than just as a big-play wide receiver, on the punt return, kick return game,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of the second-year player’s development. “It’s huge as an offense to be able to know that at any point he could take one back and at worst-case scenario is going to get you great field position. So that’s awesome.

“Then as a wide receiver he’s really come along. Half way through the year he had a couple hundred yards. That was it. Then all of a sudden he kind of emerged and started having big games and made big plays for us. That’s kind of been his M.O., making that splash play but still being a reliable guy every play.”

Brown, who set a team single-season record with 2,048 all-purpose yards so far this season, emerged as the season wore on, providing the Steelers a threat in the passing and return game.

“He had a great year, he came up for us in big ways and in critical situations and he’s a big part of this team,” said fellow receiver Mike Wallace. “We’re happy with what he brings to the table and he’s done a great job.

“The sky’s the limit for him. He can do so much, with the return game and at receiver. He’s a duel threat. He’s a tough guy. He has everything you need to be a good player.”

* * *

It’s been a while since Wallace has heard Coach Mike Tomlin refer to him as a “one trick pony” and that is something that he takes great pride in.

“Coach has been giving me a lot of kudos for my run after catch. I guess I am not one trick anymore, I’ve got two,” joked Wallace.

But obviously there is a lot more to his game after he was selected as one of the AFC’s starting wide receivers for the Pro Bowl.

“I think I am getting better,” said Wallace. “I work hard every day. I never take a day off. It shows hard work pays off.”

When Wallace first emerged his rookie year his speed made him a deep threat, prompting the “one trick pony” moniker. But since then he has grown and doesn’t like it when people think of him as just that.

“I take offense when people say I just go deep all of the time,” said Wallace. “You want to do that. It’s great. It’s my best asset and I am happy about that, but it’s not all I do. I can do whatever I need to do to help my team win. It’s just a matter of opportunity. That is what I try to prove every time I get the ball. I can take it from short. I can get a lot of extra yards after the catch too. That is my main focus to keep getting better.”

* * *

The Steelers have had their share of players step up this season when called upon to fill in for a starter and make a big contribution. For the players who have done so, it’s simply doing what they expect of themselves and what is expected of them.

“That’s something that a lot of people pride themselves on,” said Charlie Batch. “Coach always stands up in the meeting room and asks ‘Who’s the next up to stand and deliver?’ And he always puts a new player every week, it doesn’t matter if it’s on offense or defense or special teams, at some point he’s saying let’s see what you can do.

“If you have a hat on this team, you’re capable of helping this team win and that’s the philosophy that the players believe in and it’s proven week in and week out because there’s always somebody different that has to step up to the plate and people pride themselves on not being that weak link. You have to understand that when you step in, the standard is the standard and guys are still willing to contribute. Coach always says if you’re on the field, you’re a starter for that play and guys take pride in that.”

* * *

Linebacker James Harrison is a first alternate for the Pro Bowl, while linebacker LaMarr Woodley and safety Ryan Clark are second alternates.

This is the first time that Clark has been a Pro Bowl alternate and he appreciates it.

“For me it’s been a long journey in the NFL,” said Clark. “To be recognized amongst those guys is awesome, especially for me playing with the best safety in the NFL in Troy Polamalu. To be noticed at all is a good accomplishment.

“For us it’s not the ultimate goal. You are excited about it, but you want to be playing in a bigger game. To be acknowledged among your peers is the biggest thing. It’s great to be acknowledged among those guys, but we want to be in the Super Bowl.”

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