TEMPE, Ariz. — You did not have to be a coach, player or scout to see that John Brown was not himself in 2016.
The speedy receiver who a season prior reached the 1,000-yard mark played in 15 games, but caught just 39 passes for 517 yards and two touchdowns, all of which were career lows.
Given what he was dealing with, it is tough to blame him.
Brown had been hampered by hamstring issues, which then led to a blood test that revealed he carried the sickle-cell trait. After finally getting that under control yet with him still not feeling great, a cyst was discovered on the receiver’s spine.
It has since been removed and, just like that, he was back.
“Smoke looks like John Brown,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday following the team’s first organized team activity practice. “A couple of those routes he ran, he did not run one route like that last year.
“Just, he couldn’t. The smile on his face and him laughing — just knock on wood it stays that way.”
Arians knocked his fist on the podium a couple of times in hopes Brown’s good fortune will continue.
The better Brown is, the better Arizona’s offense will be.
A third-round pick in 2014 out of Pittsburg State, Brown quickly emerged as a key target for QB Carson Palmer, one who could take the top off a defense as well as make big plays underneath. His longest reception in 2016 was for just 30 yards, and he eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark just once, in Week 4.
“I feel better than before,” Brown said Tuesday. “I’m just ready to work and continue to prove myself.”
There also seemed to be a sense of relief for Brown, who felt like he hurt the team last season. Even though the circumstances were beyond his control, not being the type of player — or person — he strives to be wore on him.
“It was real hard because I just wasn’t the same towards people,” he said. “Kind of being dry and you know, it wasn’t just the cyst — I was done with everything. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t lift.”
Nowadays he feels “great all around,” with no fatigue or weakness and has declared himself back to normal.
Brown did not have to say it, though.
“He doesn’t look like he looked like last year,” Palmer said. “He just has a different energy about him, he’s heavier, he’s stronger. He looks more explosive than he did last year.”
Palmer added it appears Brown is enjoying football again, which was understandably not the case last season.
“I’m looking forward to having him back healthy and the way he is right now, because he’s a special player for us,” the QB said. “Dealing with all the things he did last year was tough emotionally — obviously physically — but he just seems emotionally in a better place.”
Brown said he started feeling normal within a day of having the cyst removed, and he realized he was past the ailments when a couple weeks later he was able to run around with his daughter, which is something he had struggled to do.
He was even able to take her to Disneyland, which required plenty of walking around.
“I walked around for four hours without complaining, so that’s when I really knew I was back to normal,” he said.
It was like a real-life fairy tale.
The key now is for Brown to stay healthy, which he said comes down to taking care of his body more and praying the cyst does not return.
“I couldn’t get it going,” he said of last year. “I’m just thankful. God put me in the right situation at the right time with the right people, the coaches and the trainers, they were on it heavy and they found out the situation and once the cyst got removed, I was back to normal like in 24 hours.”
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