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With Point To Prove, John Brown Battles

Wide receiver's impact clear when he's on field -- he just needs to be on the field


Cardinals wide receiver John Brown hauls in the first of his two touchdown catches on Saturday night.

The texts come often from Carson Palmer, John Brown's quarterback/big brother/motivational speaker.

The encouragement is constant, and means even more when the Cardinals wide receiver is sidelined.

"That's what pushes me to want to be out there," Brown said.

Palmer and the Cardinals desperately need Brown to be out there. It was easy to see Saturday in Atlanta, when Brown made a pair of touchdown catches in what was his first and likely only preseason appearance. Brown's quadriceps injury is not fully healed, but coach Bruce Arians said it would be enough to make him effective into the regular season if need be.

"If that's as close as it (heals), yeah," Arians said. "That was against their starters, so that kind of answers the question right there."

Brown still believes he can get back to 100 percent by Sept. 10, but he's not making any guarantees. He thought he was back to health at the outset of camp – he was dominating practices before the quad issue happened – and he still suffers mental scars from his lost 2016 season, when a cyst on his spine along with his sickle cell trait undercut his health all year.

There is no one who can wear a smile better than the man called "Smoke." But his physical ailments stole some of the joy.

"(Last season) I was kind of pissed off at the world," Brown said. "When those close games came, I was excited but I couldn't be that dude who came in my rookie year having game-winning touchdowns. I couldn't do that stuff to help drive down the field so the kicker could make a kick or so Larry (Fitzgerald) could score a touchdown. It was so much going through my mind.

"So I have a chip on my shoulder. I'm staying calm about it. I haven't been talking about it much. My people call me, ask me how I feel, I'm like, 'I'm good.' It'll hit me sooner or later, but I do have a point to prove."

Brown was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2015, and even that season, he dealt with hamstring issues mid-year that were

likely slow to heal because of the sickle cell trouble. Last year, he was a non-factor, and for a guy who can be as effective in the slot as well as a deep threat, it was a hole from which the offense could not recover.

"We missed it last year," Arians said.

Fitzgerald likes to joke that he needs Brown out on the field just so Fitzgerald can thrive. Brown knows it's rooted in respect, and Fitzgerald more seriously emphasizes the trickle-down effect a healthy Brown can have on the whole offense.

"Smoke is one of those guys, he's intrinsically motivated," Fitzgerald said. "He doesn't need any other reason. He loves ball. He doesn't take anything for granted. He takes it personal when he's not able to be out there. He takes it real hard. I know he cares. I know it matters to him.

"I don't think anyone needs to say how important it is, he knows. It being a contract year, it puts even more of an onus on him to do what he's able to do. When he's healthy and playing confidently, he is a dynamic playmaker. A guy who can command a big contract. He understands that."

Brown was only able to practice once last week, not because of injury but because of a funeral because of a death in the family, making his performance even more impressive. General Manager Steve Keim acknowledged that Brown, like safety Tyrann Mathieu, is a difference-maker that can change field position when healthy. The positive vibes don't come just from Palmer. Every Cardinal understands the impact Brown can make when he's out there.

That's the plan. That's always been the plan.

"If I can do what I did (Saturday)," Brown said, "it's good enough."

Images of John Brown's circus catch for a 21-yard touchdown against the Falcons on Saturday

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