Brown climbing Steelers’ record book

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PITTSBURGH – Antonio Brown moved from Hines Ward’s old spot in the Steelers’ locker room during the offseason to the locker formerly occupied by James Harrison.

But there was no hidden meaning behind the swap. Brown was just looking for a spot that offered more space.

Brown has been finding plenty of extra space to operate both in the locker room and on the football field this season as he continues an assault on the team’s single-season receiving records.

And just in case Brown wasn’t sure where he was in regards to the marks for receptions and yardage in a season, Ward, now an NFL analyst for NBC, reminded him Sunday prior to Pittsburgh’s 30-20 win over Cincinnati.

“He let me know how close I am and how many catches I need,” said Brown, who was a teammate of Ward’s in 2010 and 2011. “He was always reminding me that you have to have a goal.

“Deep down, he probably doesn’t want me to break it. But he’s obviously encouraging me to break it. We had a lot of great experiences together and I’m sure he’s excited for me.”

Brown enters the Steelers’ game Sunday at Green Bay (7-6-1) with 95 receptions for 1,307 yards and eight touchdowns. He and Ward, who holds the team record with 112 catches in 2002, are the only Steelers to amass more than 90 receptions in a season, while only Ward, Yancey Thigpen, John Stallworth and Plaxico Burress have had more than 1,300 receiving yards in a season.

Thigpen holds the team record for receiving yards with 1,398 in 1997, a mark Brown could break against the Packers with only an average game.

“It’s a good deal,” said Brown. “This organization is unique. It’s been going for 80-plus years. To set that standard for myself, to set that mark – I come in and challenge myself to always be better. It’s a great opportunity.”

And one that few thought Brown would have when the Steelers selected him with a sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft.

The Steelers still had Ward, Mike Wallace and Antwaan Randle El at that time, leaving little playing time for rookies Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, who was a third-round pick in the same draft.

“I think in his mind he’s always been a No. 1 (receiver), even when he was a No. 4,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “I think that’s why he’s successful. He’s got ridiculous work ethic. I think everyone respects that and it’s very evident.”

Brown has used Ward and Harrison as inspirations. He watched Ward always play with a chip on his shoulder, and Harrison’s worth ethic was legendary among his teammates.

“He always had that chip, something he was striving for and always looking forward to being better and having a goal,” said Brown. “James Harrison was a guy who wore a weighted vest to practice. He was a guy who excelled in the weight room, squatting 500 pounds, a guy who took care of his body and had an absolutely amazing commitment to playing the game.”

Brown made the Pro Bowl as a return man in the 2011 season, when he became the first player in NFL history with 1,000 yards as both a receiver and kick returner.

The Steelers haven’t used him as a kickoff returner since that season, but he still returns punts, making him one of only three starting wide receivers to regularly do so.

Brown has no problem returning punts and has, in fact, lobbied Tomlin to continue doing so when the Steelers head coach wanted to try someone else.

It’s all part of Brown’s team-first focus, which is why the possibility of shattering team records doesn’t faze him.

“I’m just trying to go out and execute my assignment and help the team win,” Brown said. “If I do that, (records) will fall into place. I just try to focus on what’s important.”

Odds and end zones

Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin was fined $25,000 by the NFL for his block of Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber that left Huber with a fractured jaw and cracked vertebrae in his neck. Per NFL rules, punters and kickers are protected from all hits to the head and neck. … Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, tight end Heath Miller and safety Troy Polamalu were held out of practice Wednesday. Defensive end Brett Keisel and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert were limited participants.

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