There were three knocks on Antonio Brown during what became an otherwise record-setting season in 2013, one of which the Steelers ought to be in a position to do something about this time around.
The first was that Brown admittedly lost concentration, his fundamentals and the ball on occasion (remember his infamous “lax to the tuck,” acknowledgment after dropping a couple of critical passes on Oct. 27 at Oakland?). It’ll be up to Brown and Brown alone to find an even higher level of focus.
The second was that Brown just couldn’t manage to stay in bounds during that Stanford Band finish on Dec. 8 against Miami. There isn’t anything anyone can do about that game-of-inches absolute after the fact.
As for the third, Brown’s continued presence returning punts; the necessary steps may have already been taken.
It’s not that Brown isn’t any good at returning punts. He averaged 12.8 yards on 32 attempts last season and took one 67 yards for a touchdown on Dec. 15 against Cincinnati.
But that said, his 23 fair catches and the other numerous instances in which Brown watched the ball bounce and roll betrayed his obvious distaste for having to subject himself to punishment while doing something other than setting receiving records.
The subject came up again after OTA No. 3.
Brown left little doubt as to his preference when it comes to returning punts.
“That’s always a good question,” he said. “You definitely gotta ask Mike Tomlin.”
Tomlin was unavailable to the media this week.
Unfortunately, so was Dri Archer.
The Steelers’ third-round pick was absent from the opening of OTAs.
He was sick on Tuesday. And his agenda thereafter included a scheduled appearance at something called the NFLPA Rookie Premiere today through Saturday in Los Angeles, a gathering of NFL rookies and NFL business partners that NFL Players Inc. (the marketing and licensing arm of the NFLPA) considers nothing less than “an unparalleled opportunity for our partners to engage with tomorrow’s most influential athletes today.”
Other players expected to attend among the more than 35 summoned included Odell Beckham, Kelvin Benjamin, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Jadeveon Clowney, Mike Evans, Khalil Mack, Sammy Watkins and Johnny Football.
So Archer has that going for him.
But in Archer’s absence on the South Side Brown remains the punt returner.
The list of those hoping that situation will eventually change clearly includes Brown.
“I’m always willing to do whatever I gotta do to help the team,” he said. “I’ll let coach decide. If that’s a position I gotta do, that’s what I have to do.”
No disrespect to the NFLPA Rookie Premier and the learning of financial planning, brand building, group player rights and social media practices (great, more freakin’ tweeting), but Archer can’t get here soon enough.
Brown returned punts again on Thursday.
So did Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Kashif Moore and Danny Coale.
So the Steelers at least seem interested in identifying options to Brown settling under punts in the event Archer doesn’t pan out as the anticipated perfect alternative.
“They say that every year, man, and I’m back there,” Brown said. “We’ll see.”