It’s catching. Obviously that’s the primary job of a receiving corps. For the Raiders receiving corps, catching takes on a double meaning. There’s a new energy in the building with Antonio Brown leading the group. Catching that energy is key to the success of the entire unit.
Watching practice, Brown stands out. He carries himself differently and plays at a speed you only see from a player with his elite talent, playing at a level they can aspire to and setting an example for his teammates to try to follow.
“If you’re in that group, especially if you’re in that wide receiver group, you’re going to have to jump in and follow his lead,” said Raiders offensive coordinator, Greg Olson. “And again, he doesn’t ask them to do anything that he doesn’t do. . . even though his experience in this league has been so [extensive], he still practices at a very high level.”
It’s a completely rebuilt wide receiver room this year. Along with Brown, the team added veterans Tyrell Williams, Ryan Grant, and JJ Nelson and drafted Hunter Renfrow. Each of whom bring something different to the table to make for some great competition. But more so, they’re trying to bring out the best in one another.
“We’re bringing the juice, challenging each other every day, competing and just holding each other accountable,” said Brown. “Knowing what to do, knowing how to do it, and bringing the meetings to the practice field, and being able to execute.”
“I’ve been putting some good finishes on tape. Challenging the group and I think it’s contagious for the young guys to see the level of passion, the level of finishing in regard to how I bring it to the field, and we gotta continue to inspire each other as a whole while we’re out here.”
It’s always been the way the enigmatic receiver’s outspoken personality that has been so polarizing. His work on the field, whether it be in meetings, practice, or the game has not come under question.
He attacks every drill full speed and with precision, routinely getting a step on his defender. From there it is just the job of the quarterback to put the ball where it needs to be.
In team sessions at Tuesday’s OTA practice, it seemed more often that it was either Mike Glennon or Nathan Peterman throwing him passes as opposed to Derek Carr. Both backup QB’s had passes to Brown fall incomplete; one slightly overthrown, the other slightly underthrown and knocked down by safety Dallin Leavitt.
It was Glennon who finally threw a ball right on target, and despite some fine coverage from Gareon Conley on an out route to the right sideline, Brown snagged the ball just past Conley’s outstretched arms and tapped his toes on along the sideline.
In this regard, the contagious energy and challenging that is happening extends to the other side of the ball as well being that the Raiders defensive backs have to face off against Brown every day.
“Some competitive guys. Some long corners. Love to compete,” Brown said of facing Raiders Conley and Daryl Worley. “Between plays [we’re] talking about a play we made or didn’t make and it’s a constant challenge with those guys and competing and getting each other better.”
Conley and Worley will obviously get the most work against Brown, but the Raiders plan to move Brown around, including playing him in the slot. That’s where the team’s new cornerback Lamarcus Joyner will be making his presence felt.
We’ve seen Joyner line up on Brown a few times already, including last week when the Raiders tweeted out a video of Derek Carr hitting Antonio Brown deep with Joyner just barely unable to get to it. The veteran defensive back is no stranger to the competition and that match-up should be a fun one when it happens.
“It’s been awesome,” said Joyner of facing Brown thus far. “You don’t get the opportunity too often to go against a specimen like that. An elite player and to be able to match up with him in the slot with this great division of slot players, that’s going to get me better and it’s going to make him better as well.”
It’s all about passion for Brown, which is part of the reason he and Jon Gruden were drawn to each other. Every player when asked about Gruden says they knew he was passionate, but that they were surprised at how he never seems to run out of energy and by just how much he loves football. You hear echoes of that in how they talk about Antonio Brown.
It’s early yet. Perhaps by minicamp in June or training camp in late July we will really start to see the overall receiving unit show signs of rising to the occasion so Brown doesn’t look quite as head and shoulders above the rest of the group.