Antonio Brown is special. His stats suggest this, but watching him in practice the other day really brought this home.
Competing in one-on-one drills, Brown had his way with any corner who lined up in front of him. Deep corner routes, slants, go routes, backdoor cuts -- didn't matter. Toast was burnt.
"All day!" Brown yelled with nearly every catch. "100 percent, Coach!"
I wrote this week that Brown's goals to be the best ever are not hyperbole around here. Even Todd Haley knows -- he's trying to be the G.O.A.T. Brown says he's not that sixth-round pick from Central Michigan anymore. He's chasing much more than that.
What becomes clear in watching Brown is the chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger. Brown could thrive in any system, but especially one with an improvising quarterback who buys time for a guy like Brown to get loose.
Brown makes subtle alterations each offseason to improve his game. This year, he gained five pounds of muscle and trained for making tough, contested catches in traffic (see: five pounds added).
But Brown pointed out he and Roethlisberger spend a lot of time together, whether joking on the sideline or talking about how to find each other when a play breaks down.
"I think we’ve been learning each other for some time now. He’s grown trust in me," said Brown, whose 239 catches since 2013 are a league-high. "Understanding route concepts, maturing off the field. From this summer, we learn how to be with each other through thick and thin, and where he wants me to be at all times."
Brown got 181 targets last year. That's nearly 30 percent of the team's passing game. The Steelers are loaded with pass-game weapons, from running back Le'Veon Bell to young options Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton to trusty tight end Heath Miller.
But if training camp is any evidence, Brown is a magnet for Roethlisberger's arm. In a two-minute drill, Roethlisberger completed four passes to Brown.
Roethlisberger's style of play is a big catalyst for Brown's 33 straight games with at least five catches and 50 yards.
"Ben is never going to quit. He's never going to go down easy. He can always extend plays," Brown said. "He won't let a guy sack him, which allows me time to work. A lot goes into it, like when you know teams are game planning to take you out. But like Ben says, 'Just stay with me,' because there are days when you have two catches after three quarters and then you start connecting. That you can still be able to be somewhat consistent and productive speaks volumes about our quarterback and our offense."
If Brown's streak ends, it won't be due to Roethlisberger ignoring him. Guard David DeCastro can't see what Roethlisberger is doing when plays break down -- he's too busy holding his block -- but he figures that he's looking for Brown first and last.
"It's a team effort, and Brown's talent takes advantage of those situations," DeCastro said.