When Antonio Brown suits up for the first time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night, he'll be joining a wide receiver group that already includes Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, emerging deep threat Scotty Miller and promising rookie Tyler Johnson. There are some concerns about Godwin's availability for Sunday's game, but for the balance of the season the Buccaneers look to have a receiving corps that is crowded with outsized talent…and only one football for Tom Brady to spread around.
As he makes his return to football after an absence of more than 14 months, Brown isn't worried about how his role within that group will shape up. He just wants to contribute as much as he can while getting his career "back on track."
"I'm just excited to put my hand in the pile," said Brown after his first day at the AdventHealth Training Center. "There's so many great guys here. I'm excited to play with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in TB12 (Tom Brady) [and] I'm excited to be around Mike Evans, Chris Godwin [and] Scotty Miller. I'm excited to learn, be around the guys, motivate the guys, learn from the guys, put my hand in the pile and hopefully help be the reason we win. I'm just super grateful for this opportunity, excited to be around the guys and everyone here and I'm excited to fit in here and do what's best for us to win – whatever that entails."
Brown is expected to play when the Buccaneers take on the Saints Sunday. First things first, though, Brown had his first practice as a Buccaneer on Wednesday, and he was clearly eager to go. Still recovering from their Monday night game, the Bucs scaled that workout back to a walk-through but Brown was ready to run.
"He was going full speed," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "Everybody else was walking, but he was going full speed – that's him anyway. It was good. Guys were helping him [and] he's got a really good handle on what we're trying to get done 'formationally' and everything. It was great interaction with all the guys and it was a good start to the week."
Brown said he used his time away from the NFL to work on himself inside and outside and that he worked hard to stay in good physical shape to be able to take advantage if another opportunity came along.
"I took a lot of time off from the game to re-evaluate myself, to look within, to get a better perspective of myself and working on myself within and without," he said. "To be in this position, we followed the mission and to get back on track is what 'm here to do.
"I've been taking care of myself off the field. I pride myself on being the guy who is staying in high condition and being physically fit. I spend a year and a half working out in parks and not being able to get a lot of reward. Just grateful to be in the position where I can workout and get the opportunity to play in the game and get some rewards."
That doesn't mean it will be easy to jump right into game action after last playing in Week Two of the 2019 season. Even Brady, who had to make his Buccaneers debut against this same New Orleans team after not having the benefit of an offseason program or preseason games, wasn't at his sharpest self in that Week One game. Brady has since settled into a groove in the Bucs' offense.
"It's extremely hard," said Arians of getting ready for a game with a new team in less than a week. "He does have some recall to what we've done together when I was coaching him, so there is some of that – not a whole lot. It's just going out and playing football. He knows how to play football and he knows how to run routes, it's just learning the routes that we want, the words and the things. He's got Chris, Mike and Scotty – everybody's going to help him."
Perhaps the biggest help to Brown in his quick transition will be Brady.
"He's always getting better day in and day out and I've just learned a lot from him [with] how he trains, how he takes care of himself professionally, his discipline, his work ethic [and] his approach," said Brown. "He's been a great guy in my corner and one of my close friends.
"I think there's a lot of similarities in our work ethic, being guys who [were] supposed to be underachievers, guys who were never supposed to make it. Sixth-round, late bloomers, guys who develop chips. Just wanting to be the best, yearn for being the best, always growing and getting better. Obviously, he's the greatest quarterback in the world, so I'm just grateful to be here, to be his teammate to be in the huddle with him [and] to be a part of the process here in Tampa Bay."