Cardinals wide receiver John Brown catches a pass at a recent workout.
There were times when John "Smokey" Brown's daughter Caia just wanted to play with her dad, but Brown would have to hold her off.
"Just give me a minute," he'd tell her, although it was often much longer than a minute.
"I was sleeping too much. I couldn't eat right. My body just wasn't in it," the Cardinals' wide receiver told azcardinals.com after a recent workout. "I couldn't do anything, really. I was just drained out."
Brown's health issues in 2016 plagued him beyond the football field. That's where it was noticeable to the world, with his yardage falling in half from his breakout 2015 campaign and eight games where he had one or zero catches. But his problems wouldn't even let him take walks with his daughter, which drove him crazy, and he wasn't the happy guy his family knew him to be.
It wasn't just exhaustion but pain that was bothering him. The long-talked about sickle cell issues figured into the equation. But then, Brown said, they found a cyst on his spine after the final game of the season. Once the cyst was taken care of, "I was back to normal," he said.
"I most definitely feel confident," Brown said of the upcoming season. "Since they found out the situation, my body has been feeling better. I am doing the usual, which I couldn't do when I was going through this process."
In 2015, Brown had 65 catches for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns. Last season, those numbers plummeted to 39-517-2 – and that included a 10-catch, 144-yard game against the Rams in October. On top of everything else, Brown missed most of training camp with a concussion.
"The players and coaches, when they needed me, I couldn't do things," Brown said. "When you look on the film, I'm not running past nobody. I'm not doing the usual. Look at the film, seeing those type of things, that's not me. But now I feel good, knowing that's not me, knowing I have bigger and better things coming."
Brown smiles as he talks, in much better spirits than he was much of last season. The Cardinals share the optimism – "Knock on wood we get the John Brown back that we know," coach Bruce Arians said earlier this offseason – but there are milestones to reach: Playing with equipment on, practicing in the heat, extended work in general.
"By all indications right now, it looks like the medical issues have either subsided or he has been able to manage them,
so that's encouraging to us," General Manager Steve Keim said. "We all know that Smoke, at his best, can be an explosive playmaker. Last year was not the guy who we had seen in previous years.
"When he is on his game, his ability to take the top off and loosen up defenses is so critical to our success. The way we are built offensively, with David (Johnson) and Larry (Fitzgerald) underneath, we need that guy to stretch the defense."
Brown knows that. He agreed that the wide receivers group, which was supposed to be the Cardinals' strongest unit last year, let the team down – laying most of the blame on himself.
"If we gave Carson (Palmer) the help he needed, gave Carson and Drew (Stanton) and David (Johnson) and the running backs what they needed …," Brown said. "I can only speak for me, because I was the main one not doing what everybody knew I could do, so I feel like I hurt the team a lot."
Brown believes 2017 will be radically different. His normalcy should include a trip to the San Diego area to work with Palmer, a trip that often includes some playtime with Palmer’s kids.
"If he wants me there I'll be there," Brown said with a smile. "For the kids, I'll do some backflips, do (my) Cookie Monster. I'm feeling great."
Images from the first day of Phase 2 work