RENTON, Wash. - Nearly one year to the day, after Seahawks cornerback Tre Brown crumpled to the turf trying to defend a vertical route against Cardinals receiver A.J. Green, he didn't initially know the severity of his injury.
Trainers rushed onto the field to tend to him, but Brown declined the opportunity to ride into the locker room on a medical cart, instead testing his knee by walking back through the tunnel under his own power. The rookie corner was able to successfully do that and saw that as a positive sign.
But moments later, that optimism evaporated in an instant as fears became reality regarding his knee. Though x-rays were negative, an MRI confirmed Brown had torn his patellar tendon, ending his rookie season and casting doubt about his availability for the start of the 2022 season with a long rehab ahead of him.
"Right after that, my knee just shut down and I couldn’t move at all," Brown told reporters prior to Tuesday's practice.
Fast forwarding 12 months after surgery, after being activated to the 53-man roster a week ago, Brown looks poised to take the game field for the Seahawks for the first time this season when the Raiders visit Lumen Field on Sunday. Navigating a challenging road to recovery, the process to make it to this point hasn't been an easy one for the former Oklahoma standout.
According to the player himself, Brown wasn't able to resume walking until eight weeks following his procedure. From there, progress remained slow and at times, he admitted it was difficult to tell whether or not he was on the right track towards getting back on the football field again.
"Everything is kind of blurry, you’re not sure if you are gaining ground, and what is the progress looking like?" Brown explained. "You start walking, you’re doing football things, and your tendon is okay, but it’s like, ‘When you get to full speed, how is it going to look?’ Just the consistency and what it looked like from that standpoint was the most difficult thing.”
But while Brown's recovery took longer than he wanted, he appreciated the Seahawks medical staff not forcing the issue and slow-playing his rehabilitation to ensure when he did return, he would do so at 100 percent health. Now that he's back, he's eager to prove he can pick up where he left off prior to suffering the injury last November.
After beginning his rookie season on injured reserve with a different knee injury, Brown quickly found his way into Seattle's starting lineup once activated. He made his NFL debut in Pittsburgh last October and impressed, including registering a key third down tackle on receiver Ray Ray McCloud in overtime to force a punt. From there, he swiftly forced Sidney Jones to the bench and took over as the starter at left corner.
Playing with physicality and toughness on the outside, Brown thrived before the injury, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete only 47 percent of their targets and yielding no touchdowns in coverage. From Week 6 to Week 11, per Pro Football Focus, he ranked fifth among qualified corners in opposing passer rating (51.0), second in yards allowed (44), and fourth in opposing completion percentage.
Though he only played in five games with three starts, Brown exhibited a penchant for coming up with crucial plays in the clutch. Along with his stop against McCloud in his debut, he knocked away a fourth down pass from Aaron Rodgers to Allen Lazard in Green Bay to force a turnover on downs, keeping Seattle within striking distance at Lambeau Field. Such plays signaled he had the talent and skills to be a long-term starter in the secondary.
“I showed that I belong in this league and that I can be one of the best corners in this league because every day it’s me versus me," Brown said when asked to reflect on his injury-shortened rookie year. "I’m my biggest critic, so I want to go out there and make those plays. Those plays that I made were a small, little sample of what I can do.”
Considering how well Brown played in a limited sample size a year ago, coach Pete Carroll has anxiously awaited his return over the past couple of months to throw him back into the competition. Though he has played both outside cornerback spots in the past, the Seahawks plan to keep him at left cornerback to vie for snaps against Mike Jackson and don't want to throw any "change ups" at him right now.
Asked about Brown's chances of playing on defense on Sunday, Carroll remained non-committal, saying he and the coaching staff would be evaluating him throughout the week to see where he fits.
“I don’t know if it will happen or not" Carroll answered. "He’s competing to show that he’s ready to go. He had a good week last week. From this point forward, he’s physically adapted back in, so he could go.”
When Brown went down last November, the Seahawks still had plenty of long-term questions at the cornerback position. D.J. Reed and Jones both were pending unrestricted free agents, while Bless Austin and John Reid also weren't under contract beyond 2022. Reed wound up signing with the Jets, while Jones re-signed on a one-year deal, keeping the door open for him to slide back into the lineup when healthy again.
But in Brown's absence, fifth-round pick Tariq Woolen has emerged as a Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite at right cornerback with five interceptions thus far and Jackson has been a pleasant surprise on the left side with seven pass breakups and only one touchdown allowed in coverage. In the slot, rookie Coby Bryant has forced four fumbles and steadily improved at the position.
Having watched the trio shine amid Seattle's 6-4 start, Brown understands the challenge in front of him trying to work his way back into the team's cornerback rotation in the final seven games and he's thrilled for the success of his teammates. But after grinding through a rigorous, lengthy rehab, he's confident in his abilities and when opportunity calls, whether that is this week, the next week, or next month, he intends to take full advantage and showcase what he can do to help his team win games.
"From a competitive standpoint, I always want to get out there and show the world again who I am, but at the same time, I’m patient. My brothers are doing a damn good job out there. Whenever they give me the opportunity, I’ll add onto that.”
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