GLENDALE (AP) – Jaron Brown made it to the NFL the hard way, impressing the coaches on special teams to earn a spot on the Arizona roster in 2013 as an undrafted free agent.
Now he’s coming back from a significant knee injury, but you’d hardly know it. He’s been the best Cardinals receiver in training camp not named Larry Fitzgerald.
When coach Bruce Arians lit into his receiving corps after practice this week, he singled out Brown and Fitzgerald as its only worthy members.
Jaron has long been the “other Brown” on the Arizona roster, with speedster John Brown getting most of the publicity for his spectacular big plays.
But John has had health problems the past two seasons, going back to a concussion in last year’s training camp. This year, he’s nursing a quadriceps injury, clearing the way for Jaron to move up and become the Cardinals’ No. 2 receiver behind Fitzgerald, Arians confirmed.
John Brown is practicing, but was not optimistic about a quick recovery.
“I’m getting there but I’m not where I want to be at right now,” he said. “... They expect me to come back fast. I can’t.”
Meanwhile, it’s been a quick recovery for Jaron, who looked to be having a breakout season before he tore his right ACL against Seattle last Oct. 23.
“I feel really good,” he said. “If I had to put a percentage on it I’d say closer to 100.”
Brown was able to get rid of his knee brace early in camp and the pace of his recovery has impressed his coach.
“That’s usually a year,” Arians said. “It’s getting shorter and shorter now with sports science and the recovery and rehabs. Watching him run in the spring that soon with a brace on was amazing and to have the brace off already is kind of remarkable.”
Playing on special teams earned Brown a spot on the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson in 2013, Arians’ first season in Arizona.
“He started out as a great special teams player, and he was a good one at Clemson, became a great one here,” Arians said. “It’s very hard for receivers in their nature to love covering kickoffs, especially being a guy going down the middle. He’s done a great job of that, punt coverage, all those things, and got better and better as a receiver.”
The Cardinals thought enough of Brown that, while he was down with the injury, they signed him in November to a one-year contract.
Far from taking it easy in his comeback, Brown has been a training camp workhorse.
“I’ve been here for a while,” he said. “Every camp is different. We obviously have injuries that happen. That gives me an opportunity in training camp to obviously play a lot more. I just try to take advantage of it and get in there and get those reps.”
In the process, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder has become one of the team’s most reliable receivers.
“He’s always had the size and the speed,” Arians said. “It’s just a matter of learning how to run routes and develop him out of a spread offense (at Clemson) and from a special teams player.”
Brown just missed making a spectacular catch in Saturday night’s’ 20-10 preseason victory over Oakland. On the play, he broke free downfield over the middle and was wide open when Carson Palmer’s pass sailed just beyond the receiver’s reach.
Most observers would say Palmer overthrew him. Brown said otherwise.
“I should have laid out for that one,” he said. “That was a perfect ball. ... Of course he (Palmer) is going to take the blame for that, but anybody knows I’ve got to make that play.”
He calls himself his toughest critic and downplays how well he has performed in camp.
“I feel like I could have made some more plays in the game, (and) again in practice,” Brown said. “(I’m) just kind of still getting my feet under me. I’m just trying to make progress.”