The regular season is approaching and, apparently, Antonio Brown has noticed.
The Steelers' No. 1 wide receiver was equal parts combative and competitive last week against the Buffalo Bills, first throwing a couple of punches in Thursday's joint practice and then delivering a roundhouse blow into the end zone from 76 yards away in Saturday's 19-16 preseason victory.
Then again, those may just have been the latest examples of, as backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski put it, "AB doing what AB does."
"Every time I get a chance to be in the stadium and full-equipment dressed, I definitely take it seriously," Brown said.
Brown drove that point home on the second offensive snap in the Buffalo game, delivering from distance as he had repeatedly done a season ago.
He had appeared every bit as dialed in during Thursday's festivities at Saint Vincent College during a one-on-one drill with the Bills' defensive backs. Brown fought for every catch, engaged the large crowd on the hillside at Saint Vincent College and celebrated with teammates after success reps, seemingly to excess.
"Where we were in camp, anytime you get a chance to compete against an opponent that's not your teammates, and they're coming into your house, it just raises the level of competition," Brown said.
The level went higher still when Steelers offensive lineman Cody Wallace and Bills defensive tackle Landon Cohen scuffled and drew a crowd during 11-on-11 work. Brown was one of numerous players on both sides who rushed into the mix, and he emerged swinging at Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams (6-foot-1 and 303 pounds to Brown's 5-10, 186).
"I had no clue, man," Brown maintained. "I was just helping my offensive lineman. Cody's a great guy who will finish to the whistle and (Cohen) kind of pushed him late. I just wanted to get in there and get guys off (Wallace).
"I think (Williams) got a little (ticked) off, I kind of grabbed the back of his shoulder pads to pull him out of the pile to kind of break it up. And when he realized it was me, I guess it took his anger to another level. He's a huge guy. He's a good player."
Brown was named the Steelers' MVP after catching a career-high 110 passes for a Steelers-record 1,499 yards in 2013. But he already has his sights set on doing even more this season.
"I have to fine tune my game," Brown said. "I have to be a leader for these guys in the locker room, and I have to hold my play accountable. If it's blocking, or it's catching and running, whatever the circumstance may be. We can be as good as we want to be (as an offense) and this is where it starts."
In terms of setting a standard and an example, Brown is already having an impact.
That was confirmed when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger cited Brown's trademark work ethic while assessing what needs to happen with rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant, and what's been happening with second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton.
"If you watch Antonio Brown, he scores on the second play (against Buffalo) because that's how he practices," Roethlisberger said. "Every day in practice when he catches a slant he's going to score even if guys touch him down. That's how he practices and that's how he plays and that's what transitions into big things like that. As a young guy, (Bryant) needs to keep learning from those veteran guys.
"(Wheaton) is learning and growing fast, and we need him to. He's busting his butt every day in practice. He's watched AB and he knows what it takes to be a pro. (Markus) is another guy Martavis can watch and learn from."