PITTSBURGH – Steelers wide receiver Justin Brown has been working with the first-team offense and his improvement from his rookie season could come at the expense of his friend and former Penn State teammate Derek Moye.
Moye and Brown are among the Steelers wide receivers who will likely battle for one roster spot at training camp. The same thing happened a year when Moye, a former undrafted free agent, emerged as one of the preseason surprises for the Steelers and played his way onto the 53-man roster.
Brown spent all of last season on the Steelers’ practice squad, and if organized team activities are any indication, the 2013 sixth-round pick made good use of his time learning from wide receivers like Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.
Brown has stood out during OTAs, which wrap up Thursday at Steelers’ headquarters. And if the 6-3, 209-pounder builds on what he has done in the offseason practices he will be tough for Moye to hold off this year.
Not that Brown looks at it as a competition between the two.
“We’re all out here competing, we’re all out here trying to get better,” Brown said. “Derek’s my boy so there’s no hard feelings at all. We’re always trying to help each other out with our games.”
What is interesting about the battle for the final spot at wide receiver is that whoever wins it could play significant snaps in 2014. Rookie Martavis Bryant, a fourth-round pick, may not be ready to contribute much this season so there is an opportunity for a player such as Brown to not only to make the Steelers but also to play in some sort of rotation at wide receiver.
Judging by the snaps he has gotten with the first-team offense -- and what he has done with them -- Brown could push for a more prominent role.
Brown, who played his final season at Oklahoma after transferring from Penn State, has already received praise from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and it’s easy to see why.
Brown caught a touchdown pass in traffic from Roethlisberger on Wednesday. He also broke up a pass in the end zone when an underthrown Roethlisberger pass could have resulted in an interception.
The way he fought for the ball on both plays hasn’t gone unnoticed by the coaches, who have given Brown a long look during the Steelers’ offseason practices.
“It’s definitely good getting some reps with the ones,” Brown said. “It definitely is encouraging. I’ve just got to keep working hard.”
That is because the competition for Brown and the other wide receivers trying to make the team won’t really start until July 25, the day the Steelers report to training camp.
“I think we’ve got a lot of good younger receivers,” said Moye, who caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown last season. “It’s going to be a good competition. At the same time we’re out there helping each other out, making sure we all push each other to be better.”