Back in the summer of 2012, his coach called him "a highly conditioned athlete." Yesterday, Mike Tomlin turned up the dial when he called Antonio Brown "one of the best in the world at what he does."
Whenever there was a discussion of the NFL's elite wide receivers, the names on the tip of the tongue always seemed to be Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant and Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall and A.J. Green and Julio Jones. When those discussions are held nowadays, Antonio Brown needs to be included.
Midway through the 2014 season, it's Antonio Brown who leads the NFL in receptions with 60, and since he also happens to be second in the NFL in receiving yardage with 852, it's Antonio Brown who has the combined ranking in the two categories to put himself at the top of his profession.
"He's one of the best in the world at what he does," said Tomlin at his weekly news conference. "(Antonio) is physically and mentally on top of his game, and when you have somebody who's playing like that, you step into a stadium and he's a known issue but still he performs. We say similar things about guys like J.J. Watt. We knew what he was capable of when we were getting ready to play the Houston Texans, but it still doesn't stop the storm from coming. Antonio is playing at that type of a level from a wide receiver standpoint, a J.J. Watt discussion kind of a level. I'm glad that he's on our team."
In the win over the Colts last Sunday, Brown had 10 catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns, and it marked the third game since September 2013 that he has cracked double-digits in receptions. It was his 12th 100-yard receiving game, which moved him into fifth place on the team's all-time list.
Then there are some other statistics that can be trotted out to serve as evidence of Brown's consistency, such as his ongoing 24-game streak of catching at least five passes for 50 yards. And such a level of consistency over that span of time ensures a heightened level of attention from opposing defensive coordinators on a weekly basis.
"It depends on the circumstances, but on critical down-and-distance situations it's almost always (double coverage)," said Tomlin about what Antonio Brown is facing. "(In the) red zone, third down, when you need a play, situationally, two-minute, and things of that nature. But Antonio does a good job of managing that, of managing his emotions and understanding that often the things people are doing to minimize his impact on the game creates opportunity for others, like Martavis Bryant. He's just doing a nice job of wearing it. It's what comes with being him right now."
In fact, when asked why Bryant, the team's rookie fourth-round pick, has three touchdown catches in the last two games, Tomlin assessed it to "the fact that Antonio Brown gets a lot of attention."
Through the first half of this season, Brown has eight receiving touchdowns, just one shy of his career-high eight in 2013. And also this season, Brown has become more of a factor in the red zone for a Steelers team intent on increasing its efficiency in that area of the field.
"I just think he's continually evolving as a player and getting confortable with what comes with him and with how people play him," said Tomlin. "Last year was his first at it without significant working partners, such as Mike Wallace, etc. I just think that as we continue to move forward he gets more comfortable with how people play him and what's expected of him and how he can overcome some of those things and continue to be productive for us."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"It looks like we'll have Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) back this week. He worked in a limited capacity last week. But usually one man's fortune is another man's misfortune, and the guy who replaced Shamarko when he went down with a hamstring injury several weeks ago – Ross Ventrone – he went down with a hamstring injury in the Colts game. They'll exchange helmets, if you will. Ross is probably out and Shamarko is probably in. Steve McLendon (shoulder) has a big-time opportunity this week to come back. There were no negative consequences of Ryan Shazier's participation (vs. the Colts), so we'll move forward away from that. We expect Marcus Gilbert to participate and practice tomorrow with no restrictions. He has gone through the concussion protocol, and he's ready to go. Gilbert will play when he's back. Ike Taylor (forearm) continues to work his way back and continue to get individual work in non-contact situations as he comes off his injury."