Training Camp Tour: Antonio Brown, Steelers’ receiving depth impressing

The Pro Football Focus training camp tour continues with a stop in Latrobe, Pa., as the Steelers prep for the 2016 season.

| 11 months ago
Steelers Training Camp

(Photo by Gordon McGuinness/Pro Football Focus)

Training Camp Tour: Antonio Brown, Steelers’ receiving depth impressing

On Day 5 of the Pro Football Focus training camp tour, the PFF analysis team traveled to Latrobe, Pa., to take in Pittsburgh Steelers camp.

LATROBE, Pa. – Continuing the PFF training camp tour, our team of analysts rolled into Steelers camp on Sunday to witness Pittsburgh’s first padded practice of the year. The Steelers hold their camp at Saint Vincent College; the campus provides an idyllic backdrop for the practices and a fantastic setting for both fans and media to watch.

[More: Get the full PFF training camp tour schedule here.]

Antonio Brown showing elite flashes early in camp

This is hardly breaking news, but Antonio Brown’s greatness doesn’t diminish when seen in the flesh; if anything, it’s only enhanced. A normal-sized human being in a league of super athletes, Brown has the ability to make quick movements in small spaces that blow him wide open in routes and make defenders miss after the catch. Brown made multiple ridiculous catches in the course of practice, schooled first-round rookie cornerback Artie Burns (University of Miami) for a deep touchdown in one-on-one drills, and generally looked to be on a completely different level than anybody else on the field—which he is.

Last season, Brown was the best receiver in football, despite missing QB Ben Roethlisberger for multiple games. With Big Ben taking a veteran day on Sunday, the PFF crew had the chance to see the rest of the Steelers’ depth chart target Brown and maximize his impact. Landry Jones, in particular, connected with a couple of nice passes to Brown, producing the kind of throws he’ll need to make if Roethlisberger is injured again this season.

Physicality of Steelers camp notable

Pittsburgh’s physicality in camp is impressive compared to other teams each year, and that proved true again on Sunday, with some big hits coming from multiple players on defense. Linebacker Ryan Shazier seemed particularly pumped to be let off the leash for the first time this offseason, and was flying around both individual and team drills like a guided missile to deliver some big hits. The D-line was in on the action, as well, in 11-on-11 drills, and rookie linebacker Tyler Matakevich showed the same nose for the football as he did at Temple, stuffing several run plays with nice tackles.

All in all, this is one of the most physically-intense team practices you will see, and that is likely a big part of the team’s consistent success, despite at times fielding personnel that doesn’t look like it should be as successful as it is.

Young receivers impressing

If the receiving corps in Cleveland Browns camp was underwhelming, the group in Steelers camp was consistently impressive. Half a dozen of the wideouts in Sunday’s practice would have been the best performer in Cleveland’s camp the day before, and they kept coming up with excellent catches and big plays, despite good coverage at times from the defensive backs and less-than-ideal ball placement from the quarterbacks. Demarcus Ayers, in particular, was consistently getting open, despite very pedestrian athletic measurables. Those were enough to drop the University of Houston product to the seventh-round, but much like Antonio Brown—himself a former sixth-round draft pick—Ayers looks to have a knack for making quick, sharp moves that make up for that lack of overall athletic prowess. Also like Brown, he impressed with good hands, making one especially-impressive diving sideline catch during one-on-one drills.

Levi Norwood and rookie Canaan Severin (Virginia), in particular, also impressed with multiple good reps during one-on-one drills.

[More: Access PFF’s 2016 season preview for the Pittsburgh Steelers here.]

Other camp notes:

– QB Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t practicing, but he was out on the field putting in work as almost an auxiliary coach, even playing linebacker during some TE drills to distract the receivers as the pass was thrown. He also worked with the receivers, talking them up after big plays and coaching up some of the route running.

– Rookie CB Artie Burns (University of Miami) was victimized by Antonio Brown—but so was nearly every cornerback Brown came across last season, so there’s not necessarily any shame in that. Burns still looked a little uncomfortable in off-coverage, and has a way to go before he finds himself with the first-team defense.

– OT Alejandro Villanueva deserves a special mention for stoning a solid bull-rush attempt from James Harrison, who got right into the big tackle’s pads and has a natural leverage advantage of close to an entire foot in height and center of gravity.

– Rookie edge rusher Travis Feeney (Washington) had some very nice reps in pass-rushing drills against the offensive linemen. With both Bud Dupree (who looked more lively himself) and Jarvis Jones underwhelming starters last season, Feeney could find himself a niche situational-rushing role as a rookie with more performances like that.

  • Alex K

    Nice to hear some good Steelers news after all the issues this offseason.

    I was also at this practice and the WR’s did look sharp. Secondary not so much.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Steelers would love to locate another undrafted free agent like Donnie Shell about now.

  • Conserv_58

    Rookie first round pick, Artie Burns may be struggling a bit to get acclimated to the NFL, but his learning curve is excelerated by having to go up against the best route runner in the league, in AB. As coach Tomlin says, “Iron sharpens iron”. Artie couldn’t be in a better situation for him to sharpen his skills.

    I’m very glad to see that Anthony Chikillo is having a good camp so far. He was one of my dark horse favorites to make the team last year. Given his growth from this time last season I don’t see how undersized, (lack of muscle mass) second year player, Jordan Zumwalt can make the final cut. Given how rookie, Tyler Matakevich has been performing so far he’s already ahead of Zumwalt on the depth chart, IMO.

    I feel bad for Golson. The poor guy can’t get the injury bug off of his back. I hope that he didn’t suffer a Lis Franc type mid foot injury because that could end his season, again.

    As for the Steelers’ WR group, I’ve felt that they have the best overall group in the league. IMO, They have the most talented depth of any team. The ones that won’t make the final cut most likely will get picked up by teams like the browns. It still makes me sick seeing the Steelers go into the season without bone headed and woefully immature, Martavis Bryant in the mix. Bryant is a guy with million dollar talent and a ten cent brain.

    I expect the defense to improve, dramatically, especially the pass rush which, in turn, will take the heat off of the DB’s.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Being old school, I like to see a physical camp. Many teams have scaled back on that over the years because they don’t want to risk injury to players they have invested millions on or face the media criticism if a key players is lost for the season. The reality is that an injury can happen at any time and players that are physical in camp are better prepared for the contact of real games.