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Lion vs. Lion

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Quick. Fill in the blank: The Steelers’ current receiving corps is (fill in the blank). Deep? Bottom-heavy? Talented yet unproven?

However you choose to word it, there’s no question that the Steelers depth chart at receiver is one of the team’s most unsettled as training camp looms.

Antonio Brown, second among NFL receivers with 1,499 receiving yards in 2013, will be Ben Roethlisberger’s top target.

Since organized team activities (OTAs) began in May, second-year Markus Wheaton has appeared to take the lead for the spot opposite Brown, and it’s probable that veteran Lance Moore will edge out rookie speedster Dri Archer for the slot role.

After that, former Raiders first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey and rookie Martavis Bryant seem to be duking it out for the fourth and fifth spots. And for the second-straight summer, former Penn State teammates Justin Brown and Derek Moye are in a battle for a job.

“They’ve put in a lot of work this offseason,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of Brown and Moye. “I think both those guys have done a great job.”

The duo seems to be enjoying the challenge. The two played two seasons together under Joe Paterno at Penn State, and their relationship is in-part responsible for Brown’s commitment to the Nittany Lions. During Brown’s senior year of high school in 2009, Moye was assigned by the Penn State staff to show Brown around campus and house Brown on his official visit to Happy Valley.

“D,” Brown said. “That’s my boy.”

Moye’s tenure at Penn State ended before the Jerry Sandusky scandal became public in 2011, but Brown wasn’t as lucky. Turned off by the frenzy that followed, Brown, a rising senior at the time, packed his bags and transferred to Oklahoma. He was granted two unpassable opportunities in Norman:  immediate eligibility and the chance to reel in passes from star quarterback Landry Jones, now also with the Steelers.

During the offseason, Roethlisberger took Brown and Moye on a trip to California, where the group had the chance to play pitch and catch, exercise and, above all, sit around and talk.

Perhaps the relationship-building has paid off. Both receivers have opened eyes in OTAs and mini-camp.

“Justin has been getting a lot of reps,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m really proud of the way Justin has been playing. He’s been playing three spots at receiver and not really making many mistakes at all, and as a matter of fact, making quite a few plays, so I’m excited for him to keep growing.”

At 6’3”, 210, Brown could be utilized on special teams, a factor that makes up for the 6’5” Moye’s height advantage.

Brown spent his entire rookie season last year on the practice squad, while Moye played a handful of downs and caught a touchdown pass in a 20-10 September loss to the Bengals.

“I think Derek has to play his way onto the team again,” Steelers receivers coach Richard Mann said. “That’s the way it is. He knows that. He is doing really well. He’s a guy that has made steady improvement from the time I came here to the present. I think he has gotten better each practice. Each time he is on the field I think he gets better. He is a guy that has to play his way on, but he has a chance.”

Playing on the practice squad is no banishment. In fact, it’s oftentimes just part of the nurturing process for young receivers who wish to make the most out of the college-to-pro transition.

“I played on the practice squad all year. I definitely just tried to get bigger, faster, stronger, and keep learning more about playing the position of receiver,” Brown added.
Oklahoma Justin Brown
Brown and Mann shared the same viewpoint.

“He doesn’t really look like the same guy. He’s made a transition. He’s very confident. Again, we are out here learning how to do it,” Mann said.

Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley recently called the list of receivers out for a job “as deep as [he’s] ever been around.”

And these former Penn Staters only add to the equation.

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