Wait, What? Antonio Brown Might Not Make the Final 53?

To recap: the Steelers sent Santonio Holmes to the Jets for a fifth-rounder because he was a huge pain in the ass. I wasn’t crazy about the move because, well, Holmes was a former first-round pick, a Super Bowl MVP, and the team’s best wideout. But I understand the motives behind the trade, and after watching rookies Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown (and even Antwaan Randle El, who surprised the hell out of me against the Giants because he actually got open downfield AND caught a couple passes), I’m over Holmes.

Conceivably, the Steelers could go into the regular season with Hines, Wallace and Heath, and Randle El in the slot. Which means that Sanders and Brown (who have both looked impressive through two preseason games) and Battle could fight it out for the fourth and fifth spots (in addition to all contributing on special teams). Seems plausible in theory, but then I read this from Ed Bouchette’s Giants game notes:

“The coaches believe Antonio Brown is not smart enough to grasp the routes he has to run as a wide receiver. I’m told his roster spot is in jeopardy because of it. Look, Steelers coaches once explained that Johnny Unitas wasn’t smart enough either before they released him. Brown is on my team, if for nothing else right now than as a return man. Let’s hope the coaches come around to that way of thinking. Brown showed a good burst right off the ball on his returns and made good decisions where to run. Stefan Logan, for all his speed and quickness, has neither of those two attributes.”

What the what? Look, I understand that there is plenty I don’t know about these players, especially when it comes to their knowledge of the playbook, their day-to-day work ethic, and the impressions they make on the coaches. But I find it hard to believe that Brown, who is obviously talented, knows so little of what he’s supposed to be doing from one play to the next that the Steelers would actually consider keeping him off the final 53.

Bouchette makes a good point: fine, don’t let Brown run routes during the season. Just let him return kickoffs and punts for a year while he uses the rest of the time to familiarize himself with his offensive responsibilities. I mean, we’re not talking about Fred Gibson here — somebody who was afraid to get hit and apparently wasn’t fond of hard work. In limited action, Brown’s shown great hands and appears to be a legit big-play threat.

Maybe he’s expendable if Holmes is still around, but less so when an aging Hines Ward is lining up opposite a second-year player who can run really fast in a straight line but is still unproven as a route runner. And behind them is a former college quarterback back in Pittsburgh after losing a couple steps during a four-year stint in DC.

And while I leave the 53-man-roster math to Ted, if Pittsburgh keeps six wideouts (and, historically, that certainly seems reasonable), there’s no way Brown doesn’t make the team (Hines, Wallace, Randle El, Sanders, Battle) unless Stefan Logan suddenly becomes a wide receiver and keeps his return gig.

It could also mean a roster spot for a player at another position — perhaps on the offensive (Hartwig or Hills) or defensive line (Sunny Harris or Nick Eason), or at linebacker  (Stevenson Sylvester). But from my uninformed vantage point, it doesn’t make much sense to get rid of a guy who could help immediately to make sure there’s depth on the game-day roster. Then again, trust no one. Because, you know, everything’s a conspiracy.

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  • Cols714

    Keeping Logan and cutting Brown would be dumb. Brown can return kicks probably 90% as good as Logan and he’s also a WR.

    Sometimes I don’t understand roster management.

  • FW

    Brown may not be the Nobel mathematician that Eddie B. is, but I’d keep him on the 53-MR based on what little I’ve seen of him. Also, was that Eddie B. coming down from Sinai with the tablets? Answer: NO.

  • SD

    I’m pretty annoyed with Bouchette here. I think it’s obvious that Brown that talent and potential. I think it’s equally obvious that he’s a player that needs some maturing before he’s ready to contribute at to this team, both short term and further down the line. Anyone that goes into a celebration of a catch that doesn’t even result in a first down is a player that needs a dose of perspective in my book.

    I’m ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE that no coach on the Steelers’ staff told Ed Bouchette that Brown wasn’t smart enough to learn to run routes. I’m sure that the conversation, if it occurred, went more in the lines of Bouchette asking about Brown’s chances of making the team, and some coach saying that he still needed work learning his routing trees and other specifics of his position that any and all rookies are trying to get down this time of year. And that’s a good thing, the last thing someone like Brown needs is to make a couple meaningless catches in the regular season, go into cruise control thinking he’s got the team made, and tune out the coaches for the rest of the year. That’s the path of busts and divas, and the Steelers don’t build divas.

    And even if Brown can replace Logan as a returner, if he’s not ready to contribute as a receiver, then he basically becomes the same player Logan is now. A return specialist without a true place on offense. And if you’re going to dedicate a roster spot to purely to a returner, as a coach you have to ask yourself is Brown better than Logan is currently in that role.

    So no, Brown isn’t guaranteed a spot on this team yet. He’s showing promise and potential, but he’s also shown that he needs to mature. And if he doesn’t make the roster because of that, I’m fine with that. And I’ll be reading what Bouchette says with a little more skepticism from this point on as well.

  • Judk

    Bouchette’s logic is dopey. Wallace didn’t pick up routes last year either, so he just ran fly routes deep. A year later and he knows the playbook. There’s no reason Brown can progress in a similar fashion.

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