If he wants to catch extra balls after practice from a JUGGS machine he needs to do everything he can to make sure he gets in line ahead of Antonio Brown.
“With him,” Wheaton says with a smile, “there’s no telling how many he catches. Usually you’re out there waiting for a while.”
Brown’s tireless approach to getting better has made him one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
Brown has made the Pro Bowl twice in his first four seasons even though he lasted until the 195th pick of the 2010 NFL draft. And, barring injury, he will hold team records for the most catches, receiving yards and all-purpose yards by a player in his first five seasons before the end of 2014.
And, says the 26-year-old Brown, “You still ain’t getting the best part of my game yet. I’ve still got room to grow.”
In many ways, yes.
But Brown stopped growing physically after he reached 5-10, and his relative lack of size is the biggest reason why he is just starting to get mentioned among the top players at his position.
The NFL has long been enamored with tall wide receivers, and Brown is at the forefront of smaller players re-asserting themselves as premier pass catchers. After the 10th week of the season six of the top 10 players in wide receiving yards were 6-feet or shorter.
Brown topped the list in both catches and receiving yards heading into Week 11, and no less an authority than Jerry Rice has said he is the best young wideout in the game. Steelers safety Mike Mitchell says he is the best wide receiver, period.
“I know others guys are bigger and maybe have better career numbers, but if you look at who’s doing it right now who’s doing it better?” said Mitchell, who is in his first season with the Steelers after previously playing for the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders. “He plays like he’s 7-feet tall. He stiff arms safeties when he’s running the ball, and have you seen him lose a jump ball?”
Watching Brown stiff-arm an opponent or run with the ball in the open field makes it clear that the 5-10, 186-pounder is blessed with exquisite instincts.
And he did not get stiffed in the gene pool either, as his father, Eddie Brown, is a former standout wide receiver who in 2006 was voted the best player in the history of the Arena Football League.
But ask those who are around Brown on a regular basis the secret to his success, and they contend that there is no secret: Brown simply refuses to let anybody outwork him.
He never slows down, not even in offseason practices. Brown sprints to the end zone every time he makes a catch in the non-contact practices, a habit that the Steelers coaches make sure to point out to his teammates. During the season Brown puts in a full day at Steelers’ headquarters, and then two nights a week he will also go to a local gym to get in another workout.
“Just my regimen,” Brown says with the easy smile that is also one of his signatures. “That’s what I do.”
His teammates aren’t nearly as nonchalant about what Brown does.
“How many No. 1 receivers in the NFL are catching punts in practice and running it all way back for a touchdown?” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger says. “Then Dri [Archer] steps up and [Brown] tells him to get out because he wants another one. His work ethic and demeanor and attitude are just unbelievable. He’s literally nonstop and I’ll grab him and pull him aside and make up a fake conversation just to keep him out of running so many (punts) back and wearing himself down. His work ethic and attitude are just unbelievable.”
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who has been coaching in the NFL since 1997, agreed.
“He works as hard as anybody that I have seen,” Haley says. “He is very driven to prove that he is among the elite guys at his position right now. I think from a big picture standpoint, he is one that they will talk about for a long time.”