TEMPE, Ariz. — About the only thing that has been able to slow down Arizona Cardinals receiver John Brown this season are his hamstrings.
Unfortunately, they are still an issue.
Brown practiced on a limited basis Thursday and Friday, putting him on track to play in Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. However, even if he plays, it’s impossible to determine what kind of impact he will have.
The second-year pro played 59 snaps last week in Seattle, but came down with zero catches on three targets. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said that had less to do with his injury and more to do with the ball just not coming his way, but noted it’s hard to tell if his team’s second leading receiver has turned any kind of corner on the way to getting healthy.
“He hasn’t practiced hard enough to find out; we haven’t let him practice hard enough to find out,” Arians said. “You’ll find out when the first one goes past 20 yards.”
Arians added Brown’s short routes have been fine, noting that the challenge has been getting him to trust that he can open things up and “let it go.”
The receiver’s hesitancy to do just that is understandable, because while tight and sore hamstrings are a pain to deal with, thus far he’s still been able to play through it.
Brown did say he is feeling good enough to play, ready to help the team in whatever way he can. If that means serving maybe as a bit of a decoy, which appeared to be the case in Seattle, so be it.
“It was hard because I can’t really be myself, I can’t play how I want to play so I’m just running, doing what I can do to open things up for other guys,” he said. “I guess it’s working well. As long as we’re winning I don’t mind the pain.”
And that’s just it. While Brown may be hesitant to really open things up, his issues are as much physical as they are mental.
“I feel it when I’m walking and running, trying to open it up,” he said. “It’s still grabbing on me to the point where I can’t get full force and run how I want to run.”
For a player whose greatest asset is his speed — he ran a 4.34 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine — not being able to reach his top gear is problematic.
There is also the natural concern of making things worse, but Brown said he is getting better week by week, slowly.
“Just waiting to see when I get healthy and am able to run fast,” he said.
It was believed that Brown would be at that point now.
The 25-year-old first injured the hamstring during the Cardinals’ Week 6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he caught 10 passes for 196 yards. He reeled in four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown the following week against Baltimore, but then sat out Arizona’s Week 8 win over the Cleveland Browns. The hope then was missing that game, along with the extra week of rest provided by the team’s bye week, would be enough to get him well.
Brown said it was, as he came back from the break feeling good.
“I was running back to my regular self and just ran too fast on a deep ball and it came back,” he said. “So I thought I was going to be ready but I rushed it too fast.”
Brown has caught 54 passes for 562 yards and three touchdowns this season, and if the Cardinals are to be the kind of offense they hope then he will need to be healthy and effective. Should he be forced to miss another game the team would dip into a deep receiving pool that features Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson and Brittan Golden.
But assuming Brown plays, then he will just try to gut it out and help his team win another game.
“I’m real frustrated because I’m usually able to fly around and move around,” he said. “But my hamstrings being weak, it’s kind of hard for me versus press coverage and hard to run by guys but I’m just making the best of it.”
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