NASHVILLE – It was understood throughout the 2020 NFL season that A.J. Brown was not fully healthy. The extent to which he was injured was not clear until weeks later.
Four days into training camp, there is no doubt about the health of the Tennessee Titans’ Pro Bowl wide receiver.
“I’m pretty sure everyone can tell that I’m healthy,” Brown said with a wry grin Saturday. “Pretty soon, everyone else will know too.”
Brown, a second-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2019, is one of 11 players in NFL history to top 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons and one of five since 1970 with at least 2,000 receiving yards and 19 touchdown catches in his first two seasons combined.
He got there – and earned his first Pro Bowl invitation – last season when he caught 70 passes for 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 14 games. Along the way, he was on the injury report every week of the regular season. It started with a knee injury right before the season-opener at Denver and ended with knee and hand injuries that had him listed as “questionable” for the wild card playoff game against Baltimore (he played). There was also an ankle injury, and at times more than one of those issues was the reason for his inclusion on the injury report.
The only games he missed were in Weeks 2 and 3. After that, he made it to the field every Sunday even though there were times he did not practice at all during the week.
“It was all a mental thing,” Brown said. “Last year, like I was facing a lot of things. My knee. Then I rolled my ankle real bad. I damaged some ligaments in my ankle, but I was kind of glad I hurt something else so I could take some pressure off the knee. That’s how – mentally – I had to do it.
“… I knew I had to keep going. I knew my team needed me. “
Weeks after the loss to the Ravens, he revealed in an entertaining and enlightening social media post that he had surgery on both knees.
That led to an offseason focused primarily on rehab. He was not an active participant in organized team activities (OTAs) or the mandatory June minicamp. He said the first time he ran on a football field was two weeks prior to the start of training camp.
“This offseason was all weight room work,” he said. “Like, I wasn’t able to get on the field. … I’m excited. This is probably one of the first times me going into training camp that I’m fully healthy.
“I’m flying around, having fun and making plays.”
That he is. Right from the outset, he has looked every bit like a player whose first two seasons were no fluke. He has been a difficult matchup for all of the defensive backs, whether it is in individual periods, seven-on-seven or 11-on-11 work.
He’s also running his mouth, ramping up the competitive nature of things between the offense and the defense.
“Obviously, A.J. – he’s a dog,” safety Kevin Byard said. “… He’s been out there making plays, scoring touchdowns. But, honestly, that is something we expect from him. Even when he was a rookie, he was making plays already.
“What he’s doing now, it’s not really surprising because we know the talent that he has and the chip that he has on his shoulders because he wants to be one of the best in the league.”
Of course, it helps that he is healthy.
“I’m so comfortable,” Brown said. “I feel like I can do whatever I want to do when I want to do it. My confidence is just through the roof.”