Linebacker Cody Brown missed the 2009 season after breaking his wrist.
The locker room was mostly barren, but out on the Cardinals' practice field, Cody Brown took turns with fellow linebacker Reggie Walker taking coverage drops and catching the football.
Brown hadn't been on the field since last offseason, after fracturing his right wrist in the Cards' second preseason game. His rookie year, in many ways, was lost.
Brown still attended meetings and watched film, but even now acknowledges "there is a lot of stuff you can't learn unless you are out there."
Given the Cardinals' outside linebacker situation, Brown not only has to be out there in 2010, he must quickly make up for time missed.
Bertrand Berry has retired. Chike Okeafor likely will not return. Brown was supposed to spend his rookie year behind the two figuring out how to make the transition from college defensive end to NFL linebacker. Instead, he'll be thrust into an important role despite being in limbo as "more than a rookie but not yet a second-year player," linebackers coach Matt Raich said.
"He's a year more mature physically," Raich said, "He's not a full year in the system mentally. But I saw enough on his pass rush and his drops that I like. He's an athlete. I am excited to have him out there."
Even with limitations lifting weights with his bad wrist, Brown has been able to work with strength and conditioning coach John Lott enough to build up his body. He is anxious to play again – "I'm here now," Brown noted, nodding toward the otherwise vacant weight room as players remain on vacation – which would seem a good sign for a team that will need him.
The Cardinals still have veteran Clark Haggans, and Brown's good friend and fellow second-year player Will Davis made surprisingly solid strides in his own transition from college defensive end to linebacker. The Cardinals also signed CFL co-sack leader Stevie Baggs to see if Baggs can transition to the NFL.
But it's Brown and another young player – Mark Washington, who was signed to the practice squad with a month left in the season – that have made enough of an impression the Cards hope pan out into production.
Raich said he was "intrigued" with both players, acknowledging he knows more about Brown since Brown has been around longer. Regardless, the group (aside from Haggans) will force Raich to change his approach this season.
"We have less experience, so there is a little more teaching, little more talking to them," Raich said. "We're not coddling them, but we're going to make sure they understand. We had all those veterans in the league and in the system, they understand everything. Once you tell them something, they do it, while the younger guys, you might have to do a little more explaining."
That's where Brown's 2009 absence will be felt. The closest Brown got to missing such significant time was when he broke his elbow his sophomore season at the University of Connecticut. But that came in the sixth game of the season, so Brown hasn't endure such a extended time away before.
"I don't even remember what (playing) is like, to tell you the truth," Brown said.
Brown carries with him optimism, insisting the wrist injury won't be a "big setback." His time studying film and listening to coaches in meetings will help.
And when he can, he'll get on the field, even if it's the dead of February with a lone teammate.
"That's the only thing I didn't do," Brown said, "and it's the most important."
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