Confidence, work ethic fuel Brown's rise

PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown is well on his way to his second Pro Bowl and quite possibly his second Steelers' MVP award since 2011.

Brown is third in the NFL in both catches (95) and receiving yards (1,307). He has also been one of the league's top punter returners, averaging 12.9 yards per return.

Brown, who wasn't even the first of the two sixth-round draft picks the Steelers made in 2010, has risen from No. 4 to No. 1 receiver. Coach Mike Tomlin said his success stems from a unique blend of the fourth-year veteran believing in himself while also staying grounded and focused.

"I think in his mind he's always been a No. 1 [receiver] even when he was a No. 4," Tomlin said. "I think that's why he's successful. He's got ridiculous work ethic. I think everyone respects that and it's very evident. He's in great shape over the course of a 12-month calendar [year] and he's always working his body and working his craft.

"He's very comparable to James Harrison in that mentality. He has that type of singular focus in terms of his growth and development as a football player. I think that's why he's endeared himself to his teammates. I think that's why he's productive as he is."

Brown is indeed as maniacal about Harrison as far as training, and it is not uncommon for him to put in a full work day at Steelers headquarters and then go to the gym at night for a workout.

As well-conditioned as Brown is, Tomlin has no plans to expand his responsibilities to include kickoff returns.

Tomlin made that clear to a reporter who asked him several times why the Steelers use Felix Jones on kickoff returns instead of a faster player like Brown, Emmanuel Sanders or Markus Wheaton.

In regard to Brown, Tomlin said, "Name another No. 1 [wide receiver] with similar stats to Antonio Brown that even returns punts for that matter let alone punts and kicks. We appreciate his versatility and his willingness to be an asset to us in special teams as well as on offense."