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Old 01-18-2011, 07:29 AM   #1
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Default Steelers' Rooks Step Up, Offense Takes Off


Steelers' Rooks Step Up, Offense Takes Off
By J.J. Cooper
NFL Writer

When the 2010 draft arrived, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a deep, but old, wide receiver corps.

After trading away Santonio Holmes for a fifth-round pick and signing Antwaan Randle-El and Arnaz Battle as free agents, the Steelers had a speedy young receiver (Mike Wallace), an impressive, aging veteran (Hines Ward), two veteran backups in Randle-El and Battle and a maddening young receiver who combined deep speed, height and stone hands (Limas Sweed).

Little did most Steelers fans know at the time that the receiver corps would look entirely different come playoff time.

When Pittsburgh beat the Ravens on Saturday, it was in large part because rookie Antonio Brown beat Lardarius Webb deep for 58 yards on third-and-19. Brown's three catches for 74 yards led all receivers on Saturday. Pittsburgh's second-leading receiver was another rookie, Emmanuel Sanders.

If the Steelers do beat the Jets on Sunday, it will be in part because of the emergence of the team's two rookie receivers. After playing a very small role in the first half of the season, the two rookies have become integral parts of the passing attack in the second half of the season. For the first half of the season, the two battled for one job. Every week Mike Tomlin held an open competition during practice; whomever played better got to dress on Sunday, mostly to return kicks.

Player Catches Yards
Mike Wallace 27 485
Hines Ward 22 270
Emmanuel Sanders 19 251
Antonio Brown 17 215
Heath Miller 15 176
Antwaan Randle El 5 48

Player Catches Yards
Mike Wallace 72 1293
Hines Ward 59 720
Emmanuel Sanders 51 669
Antonio Brown 45 573
Heath Miller 40 469
Antwaan Randle El 13 128

Brown reportedly wasn't even a sure bet to make the roster at the end of training camp. There were rumors in the Pittsburgh media that he was struggling to pick up the playbook. But at the start of the season, it was Brown who "earned the hat" as Tomlin likes to say. He returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown against the Titans in Week 2. He caught his first pass (for six yards) two weeks later. But when the Steelers came back from their bye week for the Browns in Week 6, Sanders had moved ahead of him. Brown didn't return to the game-day active roster again until Week 11. He didn't make the active roster for good until Week 13 against Baltimore.

By then, Sanders had moved ahead of Randle El to become the team's No. 3 receiver. Tomlin's decision to add Brown to the active roster as well (where he quickly moved ahead of Randle El as well) opened up some new opportunities for Ben Roethlisberger. Before Sanders and Brown were getting regular time, Mike Wallace was the only Steelers receiver with the speed to generate separation against man coverage. But the addition of Sanders and Brown now gives Pittsburgh three wide receivers who have the speed to give defenses problems.

For the long-term, the emergence of Sanders and Brown has helped set the Steelers' lineup for the future. Sanders appears to be the logical heir apparent to Ward, while Brown could give the team a significant threat in the slot. If the Steelers can get their offensive line problems fixed, the possibilities of having Roethlisberger throwing to Wallace, Sanders, Brown, Ward and tight end Heath Miller should make the Steelers' offensive even better next year.

If you look over the past six games, Sanders and Brown have become nearly as productive as Ward. If you prorate the stats of the past six games over a full season, Sanders and Brown would be on pace for more than 575 yards receiving apiece. Over that stretch, the Steelers have faced the Ravens twice and the Jets, so it's not like they've piled up the stats by just facing weak defenses.

Brown and Sanders will be facing one of their biggest tests on Sunday. But they passed their first playoff
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Old 01-18-2011, 10:48 AM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers' Rooks Step Up, Offense Takes Off

I hear that Wallace and the rooks are being referred to as "The Young Money Crew".

I think the name fits
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