GLENDALE, Ariz. — It is said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.
You can add Jaron Brown having a strong training camp to the list.
Every year about this time you can see No. 13 on the University of Phoenix Stadium field making big catches for the offense, and generally what follows is a story about how the former undrafted rookie free agent out of Clemson is poised for big things.
To be fair to Brown, he does have 44 catches, 513 yards and four touchdowns, so it is not as if he is a training camp all-star who fizzles out when the real games begin.
But for the 26-year-old who can play each of the team’s receiver spots, the idea of having to continually prove himself is one he is fine with.
“I come in with the same mind set, I treat it just like my rookie year,” he said. “I want to come in with that same hunger — being an undrafted guy, being at the bottom — I look forward to it.”
So, here he has been, catching touchdown passes from receiver Larry Fitzgerald one play and snagging bombs from Carson Palmer on the next. He’s made receptions in traffic, and has once again shown he has value.
“Jaron always makes plays,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s very physical for a wideout. Great special teams player. Put in the right system he could be a solid ‘3’ or ‘2’. We never hesitate throwing him the ball in a clutch situation.”
And really, therein lies the problem for Brown. As productive as he is and perhaps could be, he will have a hard time taking snaps away from Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown or even speedster J.J. Nelson.
So while he may very well be a solid starter on any other team, for the Cardinals, he is luxurious depth.
“I was talking to somebody about him today, he has a great camp every year because he gets so many reps, and then those reps kind of dwindle because you’re not going to put him in front of Larry (Fitzgerald), you’re not going to put him in front of Mike,” Palmer said. “But it’s so nice, it’s such a security blanket that if a guy goes down, he can come in. He’s just one of those guys that makes plays. He’s one of those guys that you don’t realize how fast he is until he runs past you. He makes tough, contested catches. He’s physical enough to do what Larry does in the blocking stuff.
“He’s been a security blanket. I can visualize different plays, the third down conversion he made at the end of the game in Seattle. You go on and on and on, he’s one of those guys that’s a gamer. He gets in games and makes plays, just like he does in practice.”
The catch Palmer is referring to came late in the team’s big win over the Seahawks, when the QB’s pass to Brown was tipped in the air by All-Pro corner Richard Sherman. The ball floating above both players, Brown was able to snatch it away from Sherman for the catch and a first down.
Later that drive, the Cardinals scored a touchdown to retake a lead they would not surrender.
The win, which was arguably the biggest of the regular season, probably does not happen without that big play from Brown.
Yet, here he is again, fighting for a job on a team that boasts ridiculous depth at receiver. Good days in camp are as necessary as they are nice, because while he may not be on the roster bubble, a bad stretch could easily put him there.
“Every day you know you’ve got to be on your Ps and Qs,” Brown said. “And that’s one thing, I try to come out here and get better every day and eliminate some of the silly mistakes that I make. I still have them, even though it’s my fourth year, and just try to get better.”
Brown is hoping to show the coaches he will not make mental errors and that there would be no drop-off from any of the team’s starting receivers to him.
Getting to that point has been a process for Brown, who said he’s still evolving as a player.
“Trying to get better with my route running, certain things, catching the ball — obviously — and just overall blocking and everything,” he said. “Be the complete receiver.”
In a lot of ways, Brown has already proven what he can do. The team can turn to him if there is an injury or even if a big catch is needed. Yet, barring an injury, his role figures to once again be limited, and for a young player trying to make a name for himself in the NFL, that could be a little disconcerting.
Brown, though, does not see it that way. Instead, he views it as a positive.
“We have great receivers here,” he said. “Obviously guys like Mike and Larry and John Brown, with J.J. (Nelson), Britt Golden, those guys push you, too, those guys can play, too. It’s definitely a compliment just to be on the team and be around those guys, but I think this group, it just makes us better.”