Despite age, injury-riddled camp, Steelers WR Antonio Brown ready to ‘get the trophy’
Joe Haden won’t even let you finish the question.
“Yes!” the Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback practically screams, cutting off a reporter. “Yes! Yes! Yes!
“Yes, yes, yes,” Haden continued, his tone finally softening. “ ‘AB,’ he’s still going. Still the best. He’s been the best, and he’s still the best.”
It seemingly has been that way forever. For more than a half-decade, Brown has been the NFL’s best wide receiver.
Objectively, No player in NFL history has more catches over a five-year span than Brown from 2013-17. Subjectively, he was voted first-team All-Pro in four of those seasons (2014-17). He led the league in receptions (2014, ‘15) and/or yards (2014, ‘17) four times over those five seasons. He was denied the receptions title in 2016 when coach Mike Tomlin kept him out the meaningless regular-season finale, and Larry Fitzgerald passed him by one reception.
But while Brown is seemingly undefeated when it comes to personal accolades since 2013, Father Time is undefeated since forever. And Brown turned 30 two months prior to Sunday’s regular-season opener at the Cleveland Browns. He also endured — by far — his most injury-riddled training camp of any of the nine he has been a part of since being drafted in 2010.
The Steelers — and the city of Pittsburgh — has taken Brown’s greatness for granted for years. But how much longer will his prime endure? Is he still at the top of his game?
“I thought he was the best receiver in the league before I got here,” veteran cornerback and second-year Steelers player Coty Sensabaugh said. “Then when I got here, he confirmed it.
“And in my opinion — my opinion — he still is. Absolutely, he’s still got it.”
For the first time, Brown did not participate in any preseason games. Normally the prototypical workout warrior, his practice time at Saint Vincent was limited to less than a week. A lower-body injury, of which the Steelers gave scant details, got him sent back to Pittsburgh for evaluation. And even though Brown returned before the end of training camp, he would be limited in practice all the way up through prep for the regular season.
But this week — the first in which the league mandates teams release an injury report — Brown was not listed.
“He looks like the same old AB in practice,” Haden said.
That’s saying something: Brown is 90 receiving yards short of 10,000 in his career. Should he surpass that figure Sunday, he would tie for the second fastest in NFL history to do so (116 games, tying Torry Holt one game slower than Calvin Johnson).
“Obviously, it’s been a rough preseason for me,” Brown said after practice Friday, “but excited to get out there and show the world what I’m capable of doing.”
The world already knows. Brown holds the NFL record for the most receptions in NFL history in any five- (582), four- (481), three- (375) and two-year spans (262). Last season, he broke the record for fewest games to reach 700 career receptions (111) and for most receptions (622) and receiving yards (8,281) by a player in their first career 100 regular-season games.
But all of those accolades were garnered after preseasons in which Brown stayed healthy. Now at 30, and without the benefit of a full camp, is Brown worried he isn’t as prepared for a season as he typically is?
“(Missing camp practice time) means something to you guys (in the media),” Brown said. “I have been playing football since I was 6. So I am excited to go out and play some football.”
Moments earlier, Brown said: “Adversity is about how you respond to it, and I have a great opportunity to respond this weekend.”
Despite missing four games against Cleveland in his career because of injury or coach’s decision, against no opponent does Brown have more career receiving yards (1,312) or touchdowns (seven).
Of course, when Brown plays, the Steelers are 11-1 against the Browns, too. Which, Brown insists, meshes with the only personal goal he has for his age-30 season.
“Go get the trophy,” he said, obviously referring to the Vince Lombardi Trophy awarded to the Super Bowl champions. “Bring the trophy back.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.