Under Carson Palmer's wing, John Brown is primed to take flight.
When the text arrived “out of nowhere” back in May of 2014, Brown acknowledges he was shocked. Sure, he had just been drafted by the Cardinals in the third round, but still, to so quickly hear from the team’s quarterback, welcoming him to the team?
The text was only the beginning. Palmer quickly took Brown under his wing, even orchestrating that Brown’s locker in the team’s Tempe facility be next to Palmer’s among the quarterbacks, instead of the other side of the room with the other receivers. Palmer wanted to make sure he could mentor Brown, and that included chats by the locker.
Brown knows there are probably other teams he could have gone to where he’d have similar guidance, but he can’t guess where. “I couldn’t picture myself nowhere else,” he says now.
“Carson, he’s a great person,” Brown said. “He believes in me.”
Palmer said he’s connected with some other receivers like this over the years. But there was instant respect from the quarterback with how Brown carried himself on and off the field, how he was able to pick up Bruce Arians’ offense quicker than expected, and how he wasn’t overwhelmed with the jump from Pittsburg State to the NFL.
“That’s one of the things about Smoke, he’s so mature,” Palmer said. “He was by far the most mature rookie player I’ve ever been around. Now going into the second year, he’s the most mature second-year player. He just wants to be great.
“He focuses on his family, his daughter and football. Being a quarterback, you always want to work with somebody who works as hard as you do. Smokey is everything you want. There is a lot of room for growth and I love that about him.”
Part of that learning curve was Brown’s diet. Brown made fast food his meal at least twice a day for a few years, including his rookie season with the Cards. When he hit the rookie wall late last season, something Brown said definitely happened, some of it was mental, some physical. He had never had to take care of his body so diligently before.
The 5-foot-11 Brown drinks a lot more water now. He gets massages and therapy. He’s added around 10 pounds of muscle to his previous 179-pound frame to better get off a press coverage because, as Arians said, Brown couldn’t just keep trying to run around defenders at the line of scrimmage.
As for the fast food, “I knew I had to stop,” he said. Brown didn’t know how to cook before, so fast food had been the easy out. Brown learned how to cook – at least a little – and dumped it from his consumption. Earlier this offseason, after he was with someone who got a fast food hamburger, Brown tried a bite – and promptly threw it in the trash, the taste making him want to throw up.
These days, he’ll often cook yellow rice, baked chicken and green beans as his meal.
“I’m just simple right now,” Brown said, his ever-present grin showing. “I’m not into the high-tech stuff.”
"[CARSON] IS WILLING TO WORK AND I'M WILLING TO WORK, NO MATTER THE SITUATION. I THINK THAT MAKES US PRETTY CLOSE."
- JOHN "SMOKEY" BROWN
Palmer pulled Brown to the side near the end of the 2014 Cardinals’ offseason asking him if he’d want to come out to California for a few days of work. Brown could just stay with the Palmers. It made sense, and Brown went out. This offseason, Brown went to Palmer asking if they’d be doing it again. Brown wanted in.
The work is different than the full-team work the Cardinals have in the offseason. There are much fewer players – when Brown was there, he shared the field with Palmer, fellow quarterback Drew Stanton and tight ends Ifeanyi Momah and Troy Niklas – and with no meetings and no CBA-restrictions on how much time can be spent on the field, the players can ask questions and figure out routes in real time rather than having to discuss them in a meeting room.
“Plenty of times I can point something out and (Carson’s) like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re right,’ ” Brown said. “We help one another.”
Deadpanned Palmer, “It happens very rarely, but it does happen.”
When Palmer talks about Brown, he talks about a receiver on the brink of something great. But on the 20-or-so-minute drive from Palmer’s house to Torrey Pines High School where the summer work sometimes took place, the subject didn’t come up. Palmer isn’t interested in talking statistics, and Brown already feels the burgeoning confidence he didn’t have as a rookie.
"SMOKEY IS EVERYTHING YOU WANT. THERE IS A LOT OF ROOM FOR GROWTH AND I LOVE THAT ABOUT HIM."
“He’s so mature, I have to remind myself this is only year two in this offense for him,” Palmer said. “I have to keep telling myself that because I expect so much. I expect him never to make a mistake and I shouldn’t. But I like putting that pressure on him and he in turn likes me putting that pressure on him.
“All those little things are the big things in the end. Those little things make a difference for a guy who is not 6-foot-5, who is not built like Larry (Fitzgerald) or Megatron (Calvin Johnson). He has his work cut out for him, so he needs to be perfect. And when he is perfect, he’ll absolutely explode in this offense.”
Arians already noticed that Brown “handles himself totally differently” this year. Palmer won’t let that slide, although Palmer isn’t worried that Brown would falter anyway.
Brown’s backstory includes a tragic death of his half-brother, something Brown still thinks about every day. So it’s meaningful that Brown sees Palmer as a big brother and similar to the now-passed James Walker.
“Always a motivational guy, always trying to get everyone lifted,” Brown said.
“(Carson) is willing to work and I’m willing to work, no matter the situation,” Brown added. “I think that makes us pretty close.”
The romps as Cookie Monster with the next generation of Palmers are just a side bonus. It’s really the only extracurricular for Brown on those two trips to visit his quarterback. Interestingly, Brown said neither time did he venture out to see any of the sights and sounds of southern California. No time. There was work to do.
“After the season,” Brown said. “We can have fun later.”