x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Receivers in giving mode in the Super Bowl

Driver at Packers and Ward for Steelers play mentor to youngsters in changing roles.

Donald Driver lauds the younger receivers for stepping up for the Green Bay Packers this season.
Donald Driver lauds the younger receivers for stepping up for the Green Bay Packers this season.

DALLAS // Donald Driver, who just turned 36, winced at the suggestion. Yes, he finally said, he liked being called a mentor.

Hines Ward, soon to be 35, stroked his whiskers and pondered the idea before saying that he liked it, too.

Driver and Ward, with a quarter-century in the NFL combined, no longer are the deep-threat receivers for their teams. No matter. There will be plenty of downfield dynamos around them tomorrow when the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers meet in the Super Bowl.

"Sometimes you just have to accept your role," said Driver, who had four touchdown catches for the Packers this season. "This year we had a bunch of great receivers that were able to step up.

"Those are the types of guys you want on the team, the ones that anytime one of the veteran guys go down, they step up."

Back-ups James Jones and Jordy Nelson complemented No 1 receiver Greg Jennings and Driver so well that Green Bay had the fifth-best passing game in the league despite little balance and a third-string rookie getting much of the action at tight end.

Pittsburgh's Ward is joined by Mike Wallace - whose development in two seasons has been "spectacular", Ward says - and rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.

"I just try to spread my knowledge to these guys about the game," said Ward, who was the MVP of the 2006 Super Bowl. "The first Super Bowl, it was [Antwaan] Randle-El and myself. And the second Super Bowl, it was Santonio [Holmes] and myself. And now, playing in a third Super Bowl, it's Mike Wallace."

If the young players lean on the 13-year veteran for guidance, Ward and the Steelers lean on the youngsters, too.

"With those guys, the more and more the season went on, the more and more they gained confidence and the more and more Ben [Roethlisberger] had confidence in them to make plays," said Ward, who caught five touchdown passes this season. "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."

In a game featuring aggressive, physical and sometimes dominant defences, the receivers could find yardage at a premium. But watch out if their quarterbacks have time to spot them and in open spaces.

"[Ward] is the fastest player in pads I've ever seen," said the Steelers' offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians. "His role changed totally when we traded Santonio Holmes to the [New York] Jets. He embraced the challenge. Every day, he wants to get better."

Wallace certainly got better, improving from 39 receptions and six touchdowns as a rookie to 60 catches and 10 scores this year.

Jennings is the most versatile receiver on either team. He can get free short, deep, over the middle or down the sidelines. But he does not necessarily expect the spotlight to shine on him tomorrow.

"We have a plethora of guys that could have that game and that's why we're such a unique group," Jennings said. "We're afforded with that opportunity to have four or five guys that could get it done. Simply put, we just want to be that guy when our number is called."