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Steelers' silent rookies become proven playmakers

When he was inactive for the first three games of the season, Emmanuel Sanders probably could not have expected to have his name mentioned in a Super Bowl news conference.

But it was mentioned Wednesday. And it has been all week.

His name, and Antonio Brown's name.

They are the rookie receivers for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are playing in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday, and they get a lot of credit from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"I have a lot of faith and trust in those guys, that they are going to make plays for us," he said. "They've shown that they can do that. A.B. doesn't do a lot, but he makes a big play at the end of a game. Emmanuel has gotten to the point where he's a legit third receiver for us.

"I can't say enough about how proud I am of those guys, the way they step up in big situations."

Brown, a sixth-round pick out of Central Michigan, has been making plays from the start. He returned a kickoff 89 yards for a score against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2.

Two more spectacular plays came in the playoffs, when his 58-yard catch set up the winning touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional playoffs and his 14-yard catch produced the first down that let the Steelers run out the clock against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game.

Sanders, a third-round pick out of SMU, got going in the second half of the season. He caught 24 passes over the last half of the regular season and wound up fourth on the team in receptions. He also became a trusted target on third down.

"With those guys, the more and more the season went on, the more and more they gained confidence and the more and more Ben had confidence in them to make plays," said Hines Ward, the Steelers' elder statesman at receiver, who will be playing in his third Super Bowl. "They just stepped up each time their number was called. There's going to be a point in this game where not only myself, but the younger guys will have to step up big and make plays, and we have all the confidence in the world that they'll do it."

Receiver is a position of depth for the Steelers now, with Ward and speedster Mike Wallace at the top.

But there were question marks when the season began. The team traded away one of its most dynamic players, Santonio Holmes, who had made a catch to win a Super Bowl. Wallace was expected to take over that spot, and Antwaan Randle El was brought back to his former team.

But after that, the rookies.

"All of a sudden, you went to a veteran like Hines and a bunch of young guys," backup quarterback Charlie Batch said. "You knew at that point that the leadership in the room was as important as any, and Hines stepped up to the challenge to be an extension of the coaching staff. He did a good job of working with those guys, and now they're making an impact. Not only during the regular season, but during the playoffs."

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407