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Dealing Cards: For John Brown, sickle cell trait ‘is out of my head now’

Arizona Cardinals' John Brown (12) falls into the end zone for a touchdown as Carolina Panthers' Tre Boston (33) defends in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

TEMPE, Ariz. — “The last two days, he looked like John Brown.”

Those are the words of Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who on Friday also said his third-year receiver was smiling, laughing and running fast.

“Doing all the things that John Brown looks like,” he added. “It was really refreshing to see it on the field, you know, knock on wood there’s no relapse, but it looks like he’s got everything under control physically, which has allowed him mentally, I think, to come back and be himself.”

The process to get to this point has been ongoing ever since he was diagnosed with having a sickle cell trait, and though he returned in Week 8 to catch four passes for 49 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Carolina, he still did not feel back.

Now, he does.

“I mean yeah, I feel good,” he said. “Just happy to be back.”

For Brown, who last season caught 65 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns, struggling with an ailment that sapped him of his greatest asset — speed — was difficult to deal with. At first the thought was he had hamstring problems, but further analysis showed it there was a problem in his blood.

He said going forward it’s about taking care of his body and knowing what he has to do to stay healthy. With that taken care of, he’s confident better days are ahead.

“They know I wasn’t myself,” he said of the coaching staff. “I was kind of frustrated with the situation, but I’m ready to go now.”

The Cardinals could use him to help jumpstart a passing game that has sputtered along for much of the season. Even having missed a game while dealing with health issues in others, Brown is still second on the team among receivers in catches, with 28 for 350 yards and three touchdowns. A deep threat in an offense that has lacked one, his return to form could be a boon for the offense as it heads into the season’s second half.

Arians said J.J. Nelson, who ascended to a starting role over the last couple of weeks, will still be the team’s second receiver, though there will be packages that involve him, Brown, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

The coach noted the importance of getting both Brown and Floyd going, and anticipates that happening.

Being healthy, as Brown is now, should help.

“It was tough, just not able to help the team how I wanted to,” he said of the last couple of months. “Looking at myself on film, I wasn’t the same, I wasn’t playing fast and stuff like that.

“It’s out of my head now, I feel good.”

Injury update

The final injury report for the home game against San Francisco can be found here, and it shows only cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Tyrann Mathieu have been ruled out for the game. Linebacker Alex Okafor is “questionable,” but everyone else should be good to go.

As for Mathieu, Arians said “he got close.”

“He’s just not quite strong enough yet,” he added, before saying he can’t say whether or not Mathieu will be good to go for the next game in Minnesota.

Branch is working his way back

Safety Tyvon Branch landed on injured reserve after suffering a groin injury in a Week 4 loss to the Rams, and since then Arizona’s secondary has been a bit thin.

Branch will be eligible to return to the field for the Cardinals Dec. 4 against Washington, and could be back on the practice field two weeks prior to that. That’s what he’s working toward, anyway.

“It’s going good,” he said of his recovery. “I feel really good and just trying to put myself in the best position, and when the time comes, be ready to help the team if they call me up.”

Even if Branch is healthy enough to play next month, there is no guarantee he will. NFL rules allow teams to activate one player from IR per season, and running back Chris Johnson suffered a similar injury to Branch in the same game.

A couple weeks ago, Johnson said he was ahead of schedule and eyeing a return of his own. For his part, Branch understands the team may choose to keep him on the shelf in favor of another player.

“I understand at the end of the day the team is going to go with what they need at the time and whatever they feel is going to help them make the push, but obviously I want to play,” he said. “So I’m just controlling what I can control right now and trying to put myself in the best position to come back.”

If the Cardinals do not tab Branch when the time comes, he would finish with 23 total tackles and two passes defensed in his first season with the team after signing a two-year contract as a free agent in the offseason.

It’s not what he had in mind.

“It’s part of the game, I guess,” he said. “It sucks, obviously. You don’t ever want to get hurt — nobody ever wants to be hurt — so it sucks, but it’s part of the game.”

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