PITTSBURGH – With Detroit’s Calvin Johnson on the opposing sideline Sunday when the Steelers host the Lions, it would be easy for Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown to get caught up in trying to outperform a player known around the league as “Megatron.”
Brown could start by earning himself a cool nickname like Detroit’s 6-5, 236-pound Johnson.
“Minitron” might fit the 5-10, 186-pound Brown, who leads the NFL in receptions with 67 for 805 yards and three touchdowns.
No, not cool enough.
How about stealing another name from the Transformers cartoon/movie franchise, such as “Decepticon?”
“Ah, no, that’s pretty cool though,” said Brown, whose calm demeanor off the field is a direct contrast to his excitable nature on the field.
It might be a fitting name for Brown, who’s neither the biggest or fastest wide receiver in the NFL. What he brings to the game is a lot of hard work and innate ability that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has not seen in his 10 seasons in the league.
“The guy’s got great hands, great ability to adjust to bad throws,” said Roethlisberger of Brown. “Did I say he’s got great hands? I’ve never seen anybody adjust to balls the way he does. I’ve seen him catch balls with his helmet, his facemask. His ball awareness and skill is like none I’ve ever seen before.”
Maybe his nickname should be “Recepticon.”
Nicknames aside, if the Steelers (3-6) are to beat the Lions (6-3) Sunday and climb back into the AFC playoff picture, Brown figures to play a big part, not only as a receiver but as a punt returner.
With much of the focus this week on Johnson, some might think Brown would want to make sure he stands out in this game and outperform Detroit’s All-Pro.
According to Brown, that’s not that case.
“I don’t let my mind dwell on that,” said Brown. “I just want to continue to come to work and do what I can to help my team win, being a receiver, being a punt returner, any way I can change the outcome of the game.”
Brown became the first player in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards and return yards in 2011, earning a spot in the Pro Bowl. He has an outside shot at exceeding 2,000 total yards again this season.
In addition to his 805 receiving yards, a total that puts him on pace for more than 1,400, Brown has 19 rushing yards, 15 passing yards and 219 yards on returns, including a 50-yarder last week to set up a field goal against Buffalo. Brown also had a 24-yard punt return in the game, but has yet to break a return for a score.
Brown and Seattle’s Golden Tate are the only punt returners who are in the top five in average per return – they both average 13.7 yards – that have not scored a touchdown. They are the only starting receivers among that group.
Some starters might balk at exposing themselves to the added danger of returning kicks, but as Brown notes, “Football is a dangerous game.
“My approach has always been, it’s always about the team. Whatever they need me to do to affect the outcome of games for our team, I’m all for it.”
As for wishing he had Johnson’s combination of size and speed, Brown, who watched the Lions and Johnson in college when he was at Central Michigan, isn’t going down that road.
He’ll let Johnson have the cool nickname and all of the accolades.
“It’s just not a reality,” said Brown. “I am who I am, and I appreciate everything that I have.”
Odds and end zones
Guard Ramon Foster (ankle), center Fernando Velasco (knee), linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) and defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) did not practice Wednesday. … Tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert and guard David DeCastro were limited. … Former Poison lead singer Bret Michaels, a Butler native, dropped by the Steelers facility to watch practice.