Don Wright/AP

The Steelers’ fifth-year receiver had a season for the ages, but it will amount to little if he doesn’t help Pittsburgh get past its old nemeses in the wild-card round. A Killer B opens up about preparation, playing big and facing Baltimore

By Jenny Vrentas
January 02, 2015

Steelers practice ended at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon, and meetings wrapped up about 20 minutes later. But Antonio Brown wasn’t done for the day. He still had a 90-minute workout to complete in the weight room. This is part of the routine that made him the most prolific receiver in the league—and in Steelers history—this year, with 129 catches and 1,698 receiving yards. The pressure will be high on the fifth-year wideout in this weekend’s wild-card game against the Ravens, even more so as another of the Steelers’ major offensive weapons, running back Le’Veon Bell, is uncertain with a knee injury suffered last week. But Brown is not just a consistent receiver; he also knows how to deliver in big moments. He talked to The MMQB yesterday after he finished his workout—at 5:30 p.m., two hours after the end of practice.

VRENTAS: Two days before a playoff game, on a short week, you’re putting in a lengthy workout in the weight room. What does that entail?

BROWN: It usually depends on the day. I usually hit legs right after the game, lower body, on a Monday. Tuesday we take a day off. Wednesday I work out the upper body after practice. Thursday, after practice, I do shoulders. Friday we do single leg. But since we’re on a short week, today was legs and upper body, a full-body workout. You’ve got to take care of yourself, and it starts in the gym, with hitting the weights. The gym is a huge part of what goes into it, to keep you upright and help your recovery during a long year.

VRENTAS: This will be your 10th Steelers-Ravens game. How would you describe the rivalry?

BROWN: Reckless abandon, trying to get a win. High intensity. High competitiveness. Hard-hitting. An intense matchup that always comes down to the most physical team.

VRENTAS: You posted on Twitter a clip of your 58-yard catch on 3rd-and-19 that set up the winning touchdown against the Ravens in the 2010 divisional playoff, during your rookie season. What do you remember about that play?

BROWN: It took the air out of them. You can see looking at [the Ravens’] sideline. Their heads are down, and they knew it was over. I remember the crowd going crazy. The energy was super amazing. I remember Hines [Ward] jumping on my back. It was an amazing time. You remember those moments; that moment was a legendary moment you’ll never forget. Those kinds of moments propelled us to the Super Bowl and gave us the energy and the passion to close out the game. Those are the types of performances you look forward to having in the playoffs.

VRENTAS: You’ve continued your success against the Ravens. Last time you played them you had 11 catches for 144 yards. How do you expect them to try to account for you this weekend?

BROWN: I think they’ll do a lot of moves as far as trying to double me, trying to get a bead on where I’m at, and making sure they have a guy on top and a guy in front of me. Those are things I’ll anticipate. I expect them to try to do everything they can to win the game, and taking me out could be an asset for them.

VRENTAS: It’s a challenge for a receiver to produce so consistently over multiple years, with opposing defenses keying in on them. How have you sustained that edge?

BROWN: I usually look for a tendency. Where he is going to open up his hips after 10 or 12 yards; what coverages do they usually like depending on the down and distance? What are their favorite coverages on first-and-10? What are their tendencies in the red zone? Try to get a bead on things like that, so when I get to the line, I already have the information on what I’m seeing and what I’m anticipating. And I think I’ve just grown; I think I’ve just gotten better. From snapping down—that’s when you stop at the top of the break—to stacking defenders. Just being mentally prepared and putting myself in position to make plays. I think I’m doing things better; fine-tuning and perfecting things. The more and more I do it, the better and better I get.

VRENTAS: You don’t catch 129 passes from a quarterback without having good chemistry. What’s something you’ve learned from Ben Roethlisberger that has helped you be a better receiver?

BROWN: Being a pro. Making sure I’m mentally ready to go once I get to work; in walkthrough, being mentally prepared and focusing on the details of my assignment. I think I our relationship has just gotten better over time, not only on the field but off the field. The more we chill, and learn each other, the better it is. I usually come to his house every summer, swim in the pool. We have a camp here every summer and working out in the offseason here at the facility.

VRENTAS: Earlier this season Jerry Rice had high praise for you, telling Talk of Fame Network that you’re the best receiver in the game. When you had a chance to pick his brain, what did you take from that conversation?

BROWN: I met him in February and I gave him a call when I was out in California to work out. I wanted to understand his mentality. What made him who he is: the production, the Super Bowl rings. What was his motivation? How did he get his body prepared every year, and how did he excel? Jerry said I’m on the right track.

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VRENTAS: One of your greatest assets is your route-running. What’s your secret?

BROWN: I study film, I catch a lot of balls and I try to just get faster and stronger. I feel like if I get faster and stronger, the better I’ll explode out of breaks, and the more my mind can be sharp, because I’ll be able to react faster to what I am seeing. Usually down in Miami in the offseason, I bring Geno Smith out and a lot of defensive backs, and we make it like a 7-on-7. And we do on-on-ones and try to simulate the training camp setting. I usually do it with my weight vest on, and I try to push myself to the limit. So when I get to camp, I feel like I’ve already endured the hard part.

VRENTAS: You were a rookie when the Steelers went to Super Bowl XLV. What do you remember about what allowed that team to make a deep playoff run?

BROWN: We were excited. We always talked about what was in front of us, and what would come next. And you could sense that same feeling this year. Coach [Mike Tomlin] and all the guys around us are preaching, ‘Hey, we got this number of games left,’ and the team needs to look forward and not forget what is in front of us.

VRENTAS: It’s been three years since your last playoff game. How much better is it to ring in the New Year when you’re preparing for the playoffs?

BROWN: I remember the last two years, right now, we were offseason planning. So this is great. Your goals at the beginning of the season are always to win a Super Bowl and do the unexpected and be great, and we still have light in front of us and still see our vision coming forward.

VRENTAS: You don’t often see a receiver with more than 100 catches also returning punts. Obviously your TD return against the Bengals last week was another example of why you’re back there, but have you ever had to convince the coaches to let you keep doing it?

BROWN: Not at all. I don’t think Coach worries about the negativity [of potential injury]. I think he thinks I’m giving the team the best chance to win and giving me the opportunity to make more plays.

VRENTAS: You were a walk-on in college at Central Michigan, then a sixth-round draft pick. Now you’re the leading receiver in the NFL, with the second-most receptions ever in a single season. What was it that teams didn’t know about you?

BROWN: I don’t know. I really don't know why. I never really gave it thought. Those who didn’t get a chance to be a part of it, at least they got to witness it.

VRENTAS: You’re listed at 5-10 and 180. Why do you dislike the label “smaller receiver”?

BROWN: When you come into the league, it doesn’t say a height and a weight for a specific position. When you’re underrated, and people don’t expect you to do great things, they try to put labels on you. That “smaller receiver” label—that’s a terminology used when someone is trying to downgrade you. But I play big, my numbers are big, I think I am big. Obviously, I'm not the 6-5 or the 6-4 [player], but there’s nothing I can’t do.

VRENTAS: Who do you think is the best receiver in the game right now?

BROWN: I think you’re on the phone with him.

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