Jon Gruden is not known for being a patient man. Last year’s camp, he regularly railed about how frustrating it was to have Martavis Bryant — who Gruden traded away a third round pick to acquire — missed practices because he suffers from migraines. Well, this year he traded for another former Steelers receiver and despite his near complete absence from training camp, he strikes a very different tone.
Antonio Brown was expected to be in camp right now. Despite somewhat mysterious injuries to his feet that had him placed on NFI to begin camp, the issue wasn’t expected to keep him out long.
Early on, it sounded like Brown would miss maybe the first week. Then he passed his physical on day two and came off NFI. But despite his return, he didn’t practice past warmups that day.
Two days later, he was back on the field, but after one-on-ones, he once again left the field — something Gruden said was the plan all along. What was not part of the plan was for Brown to not return again since. Gruden even sounded very optimistic Brown would see increased work come the next practice. Obviously that didn’t happen.
Since then details have come out bit by bit that suggest he received a form of frostbite on his feet that caused the skin on the bottom of his feet to peel off much like large blisters. It was said to have occurred in a cryogenic chamber mishap.
Every day that passes that Brown is not at practice, the questions continue. Gruden gets asked for updates and he is either reluctant or unable to give them. Adding some even more ridiculous details to everything else is Brown pushing back on the league’s mandate that he switch to a safer helmet. He likes his old helmet and reports have gone from him trying to sneak his old Steelers helmet painted in Raiders colors onto the practice field to saying he won’t play anymore if he can’t use the same helmet he has worn throughout his nine-year career.
Brown has taken the issue up with the league offices and few know with any certainty where it goes from here.
Saturday after the game, Gruden felt he needed to make it clear where he stands with his absent but controversial star receiver. Both with regard to his injury and his helmet grievance.
“There’s been a lot of reports out there, I can’t say I agree with all of them,” said Gruden. “I support this guy. I think that’s what needs to be said. I don’t know what anybody’s right or what anybody thinks is this foot injury wasn’t his fault. This is a total accident. Really it wasn’t his fault. It’s a serious injury. I know some people are smarting at it, but it’s really not a laughing matter. He’s hurt. He’s innocent, he didn’t do anything wrong, and the helmet thing is a personal matter for him. He has a strong feeling about what he’s wearing on his head and we’re supporting him. We understand the league’s position as well so we’re in a tough spot. And we hope Antonio is back here soon because he’s exciting to be around. I’m excited. I got some plays for him I hope we can start calling them.”
The reports that Brown would not play again if he didn’t get to use his old helmet have drawn skepticism for the most part. Most find it highly unlikely, bordering on no way in hell AB retires over it. Gruden is understandably among those skeptics, though he wouldn’t go as far as to say there was no way Brown wouldn’t dig his heels in on this issue.
“I have a lot of confidence that he’s one of the premiere competitors that I’ve been around,” Gruden said of Brown. “I got a feeling he would play with no helmet. That’s how much he loves to play. But I’m not going to put words in anybody’s mouth. We’re going to support him and whatever his decision is, we’ll stand by it. But we’re confident that he’s going to be a huge factor for the Raiders for years to come.”
Gruden stopped short of confirming or denying whether Brown has had contact with the team of late. One of the reports said he had gone “radio silent”. But he did suggest that he hopes Brown has his foot issue cured and will soon be “ready to roll.”
The Raiders next full practice is Tuesday, August 13. Could we see him then? Sounds like no one really knows. There are just four full practices remaining this camp for him to make his return.