John Brown proving he belongs in high-rent district of NFL
TEMPE, Ariz. — It was Wednesday at Cardinals headquarters. Wednesdays are quarterback Carson Palmer’s days to address the media.
A semi-circle of reporters and cameramen, three deep and 25 or-so strong, began ringing Palmer’s locker in preparation, with everyone jostling for a position close enough to fire off questions and pick up the audio of Palmer’s responses.
Only a few reporters even noticed rookie receiver John Brown huddled in the locker between Palmer and Drew Stanton, his hands shielding his head from the swinging cameras and swinging recorders of reporters who were looking for an opening to the front row.
"This is the high-rent district, so having a rookie over here is definitely new for this row of lockers, but he’s fit in well," Palmer quipped. "He hasn’t violated any of our HOAs yet. He hasn’t let any of his stuff spill over into my lawn."
You’ve no doubt heard about Brown’s unusual placement in the locker room. Most of the Cardinals are organized by position, and that’s what Brown assumed would happen to him when he began hunting for his locker after training camp.
"I couldn’t find my locker, so I was kind of confused," he said. "I didn’t know what was going on."
Turns out Palmer wanted Brown next to him and told the equipment guys as much, so one of them pointed Brown in the direction of his new home.
"I never checked over here," Brown said. "I kept walking past, not looking at this one."
It’s not the perfect anecdote to illustrate Brown’s unassuming disposition, but it’s one of many that capture a very real and impossibly affable side of this good-natured, good-humored, humble, hard-working kid who has taken the town by storm with his speed, his smile, his productivity and yes, that Peanut Butter Jelly dance he did after hauling in the game-winning, 75-yard touchdown pass from Palmer last Sunday against the Eagles.
"It’s a Miami dance," said Brown, who is from Homestead, Fla. "The rapper Trick Daddy, that’s something he brought out. I was like 12 years old. I was good at it. I wanted to see if I still had it. My family, they’re always like, ‘You’re stiff. You won’t dance anymore.’ That’s one of my best dance moves."
Having his family in the stands for the first time helped the normally shy Brown work up the courage to display those moves.
"It’s something my family never had – this is their first time coming to see me play," he said. "They’ve never been to a college game or anything like that, so it’s just a good feeling putting them around something new."
This is the high-rent district, so having a rookie over here is definitely new for this row of lockers, but he’s fit in well.
The Cardinals believed they had something special when they selected Brown out of Pittsburg (no H) State in the third round (91st overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft. Receivers coach Darryl Drake and vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough had worked Brown out privately in Miami.
"The most impressive things were the way he came out of breaks and his attention to detail," Drake said. "The practice field we worked him out on didn’t even have lines, so I asked him if he wanted me to put down some cones to give him an idea of the yardage, and he said ‘No, coach, I can figure out 12 yards.’
"To be able to get the right depth every time without lines or stripes was incredible, and I don’t think a ball hit the ground the whole workout. After we finished, I looked at Terry and Terry looked at me, and we both said at the same time, ‘Wow!’ "
Brown has his rookie flaws, and he has made his share of mistakes in route running and dropped balls, but he has a few things many rookies don’t.
"The nice thing about ‘Smokey’ is you don’t really have to influence him. He’s very mature for being a rookie. You don’t have to give him those talks about taking care of his body or things like that," Stanton said. "He has a very nice combination of what it takes to be successful in this league, and it’s inherent in him."
A childhood of poverty and loss sped up that maturation process for Brown. So too, did the influence, love and discipline of his mom, Cassandra, whom Palmer calls Mama Smokey, playing off the nickname she gave her eldest surviving son.
Brown doesn’t shy away from his past. He talks about his deceased brother all the time, and it’s clear he takes pride in his large, close-knit family.
"When you meet his mother you see why he’s like he is; it’s how he was raised," Drake said. "He’s just a humble young man, and I don’t think that will ever change because he knows where he came from and he knows who he is."
Even so, nobody knew whether Brown’s powerful narrative would mean a thing once he stepped onto an NFL field. It’s a long leap from Pittsburg State to the NFL. Once he arrived for OTAs, that question was put to bed.
"I think the thing that separates him from most guys, not just rookies, is he doesn’t slow down to change directions. He carries his speed through his routes other than running comebacks and curls where you have to stop your body and go in the opposite direction," Palmer said. "When he’s running out-cuts and in-cuts, he really maintains his speed well.
"It’s not something you coach, it’s not something you learn in Year 6,7,8 in the NFL. It’s something you’ve got or you don’t, and he’s got it."
Brown is third on the team in receiving yards (316) behind Larry Fitzgerald (443) and Michael Floyd (353), but he leads in touchdowns (four). He is making the impact that Palmer figured he would when he influenced the locker room seating chart — the impact coach Bruce Arians promised way back in May.
But when he is asked how he is reacting to his early success, that’s when you know Brown is already assuming the persona of the two veterans flanking him.
He adopts cliche’s.
"I take it one game at a time," he said. "What happened last week, it’s old now. It’s a new week. I just want to be the person that continues to make plays and keep doing what I’m doing."