Cardinals wide receiver Jaron Brown during his first day back practicing with the team on Tuesday.
Jaron Brown cried last October when the knee injury he suffered against the Seahawks turned out to be a season-ending torn ACL.
Seven months later, he's finally able to smile.
The Cardinals' wideout acknowledged on Wednesday how tough it was to miss the final nine games of 2016 just when it seemed like his prospects were looking up. He's since endured a grueling rehabilitation, but crossed a significant milestone this week by participating in a portion of OTAs on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Brown went through individual drills, and even though he was held out of team activities, was ecstatic to put the helmet back on.
"This is definitely a big step," Brown said. "I was getting tired of the weight room."
Coach Bruce Arians was impressed with his progress, as Brown has gotten back his speed and is working to regain all of his strength.
"We're keeping him out of the team drills because I don't want to see him cut, but he's running routes full speed," Arians said. "He looks great. Actually, his computer numbers are faster than they've ever been."
Michael Floyd had consistency issues last year, and before the injury, Brown was starting to bite into his playing time. The former undrafted free agent made his mark in Week 2 against Tampa Bay, catching a 51-yard touchdown pass, and started two subsequent games.
The injury halted that progress, but with Floyd gone, Brown is among the bevy of options jockeying for depth chart positioning behind presumed starters Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and J.J. Nelson. While Jaron Brown is one of the favorites to make the team, he's not a shoo-in for the No. 4 receiver role.
The Cardinals drafted Chad Williams in the third round, have veterans Brittan Golden, Aaron Dobson and Jeremy Ross battling for a spot, signed some intriguing undrafted free agents and moved Andre Ellington to the position during the offseason.
"This is my, what, 23rd or 24th year in the league?" Arians said. "I've never been around a wide receiver group of 12 that are NFL-quality."
The Cardinals generally carry a maximum of six wide receivers on the active roster, so the competition figures to be fierce.
Ross hopes to be in the mix and is buoyed by his performance in last year's regular season finale, when he hauled in four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown less than a month after getting signed.
"It was good to end on a high note, like, hey, this is what I've done in only a matter of weeks," Ross said. "Let's see how I can do when I'm in an offense for a long time."
Dobson is a former second-round pick who had 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie with the Patriots in 2013, but produced minimally his next two seasons and was cut in the 2016 preseason. He's trying to revive his career with the Cardinals.
"I'm a big-play receiver," Dobson said. "I like to stretch the field, I can block. I feel like I can do a variety of things. I feel I can help out any way they want me to, any way I can. I'm just excited for the opportunity to be out here."
Williams has been praised by Arians during offseason work, as has rookie minicamp tryout addition Larry Clark and undrafted free agent signee Carlton Agudosi. Krishawn Hogan is a small-school wideout aiming to make the transition to the NFL, while Marquis Bundy is back after spending much of last season on the practice squad.
Ross has been through this scenario enough to understand the numbers game.
"Man, this is my eighth team in my seventh year," Ross said. "I've been on a lot of teams. I've been through the whole situation, so I kind of understand how things work. It's a crazy business. You've got to be on your toes."
Even when some of the wideouts inevitably get released, Arians doesn't think it will be the end of the road for them. Every NFL team pores over preseason tape, looking for potential additions amid the cuts, and the Cardinals pass-catchers may stick out.
"You've usually got two or three guys that are agent gifts (at the end of the depth chart)," Arians said. "'Hey, take my guy for me.' Every single one of these guys can make a team."
Images from Wednesday's Organized Training Activity