A.J. Brown’s road from Super Bowl loss to a record season

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — Eagles receiver A.J. Brown has a running joke with his trainer, Joey Guarascio, in which he will walk up unexpectedly at Guarascio’s facility in Boca Raton, Florida. When Guarascio’s phone rings, Brown will answer it and announce he’s at the door.
Brown flew down in early March to begin his offseason workouts.The greeting was the same, but the mood was not. The Eagles’ wounds from their 38-35 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII were still raw. Brown was heartbroken in the aftermath of that game; he refused to speak to the media that night, and the sorrow in his voice, which barely rose above a whisper, was palpable when he talked at his locker in Philadelphia a few days later. It wasn’t long until the pressures of the upcoming season called.

“You can tell it hurt because he didn’t want to talk about it,” said Guarascio, the head strength and conditioning coach at Florida Atlantic University who was in the same position at Ole Miss when Brown played. “I picked up on the hint like, OK, it’s still a sensitive subject.” And I know in his mind, he wanted to be MVP, to have the fairytale ending. I know that was one of his big motivations throughout the offseason, to show everyone that he can be the top receiver in the NFL.”Brown’s aim is on track heading into Monday night’s Super Bowl rematch against the Chiefs (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC). He is second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,005), trailing only Tyreek Hill of the Miami Dolphins (1,076), and is coming off a historic stretch in which he became the first player in NFL history to record 125-plus receiving yards in six consecutive games, breaking the record previously held by first-ballot Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson. Brown, the Eagles’ quickest 1,000-yard receiver, has vaulted himself into the conversation for Offensive Player of the Year alongside close friend and quarterback Jalen Hurts, guiding the Eagles to an 8-1 start

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Part of Brown’s rise can be attributed to natural progression: It’s his second full season in coach Nick Sirianni’s scheme, and he’s partnered with Hurts. Brown, now 26 and a team captain, has evolved in his approach to his job. Other aspects challenge the usual career trajectory, such as his ability to increase speed in Year 5 while suffering repeated lower-body ailments since entering the league in 2019.The goals have always been lofty – the long-running motivational refrain between Brown and Guarascio is “gold jacket or bust” – but the edge has sharpened and the pursuit has intensified since Brown walked off the State Farm Stadium field in February with yellow and red confetti raining down on him. Last year, we didn’t finish as well as we would have liked. “Having that buried in your heart wasn’t enough,” Brown said of how the finale of last season fueled his performance in 2023.

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“It was almost as if that triggered something in him,” Eagles receiver coach Aaron Moorehead added, “like, ‘We don’t want to come up one drive short.'” We have to be fantastic. We have to be flawless.'”His locker stall at Ole Miss was adorned with images of outstanding collegiate receivers he hoped to be like, such as Marquise Brown and Tyrie Cleveland, surrounding an image of the Biletnikoff Trophy, presented to the top receiver in the NCAA.He had the goods without a doubt. Following an injury to teammate Van Jefferson, Brown moved into the slot as a sophomore after producing modestly as an outside receiver his freshman year. He had eight catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns in the 2017 opener against South Alabama. He went on to lead the SEC in receiving yards the following two years.

“I always used to tell scouts and anybody who asked about him that he reminded me of what you used to see on film from the Jim Brown, old school running backs,” Jacob Peeler, Brown’s receivers coach at Ole Miss, said. “When he got the ball in his hands, he was just throwing dudes off of him.”Three weeks later, a 66-3 thrashing at the hands of the Hurts-led Alabama Crimson Tide shifted Brown’s perspective. He was smothered for much of the day by future first-round safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and finished with one catch for six yards.Brown was disappointed with the outcome, but he was determined to develop and become one of the best players in college football. Guarascio pushed him to aim higher.”When he got back [from Tuscaloosa], he was comparing himself to college receivers,” Guarascio told the newspaper. “And I put a stop to him. ‘Why are you comparing yourself to individuals you play with?’ I asked. You need to compare yourself to someone you want to be better than in the long run, people like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Jerry Rice, and all these players.’ ‘Compare yourself to guys you want to be better than,’ I replied, ‘because if you set your limitations so low, that’s where you’ll end up.'”

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The pictures of his contemporaries in his locker were removed. He replaced them with photos of NFL stars such as Julio Jones (now his teammate) and Amari Cooper. Sunday nights were frequently spent in the Ole Miss wide receiver room with DK Metcalf, viewing YouTube videos of Jones and other NFL standout receivers at the time.”I stopped focusing on the current guys and started trying to outwork the guys who were in the NFL,” Brown explained.As Brown’s dreams grew in size, he began writing them down on Post-It notes and sticking them all over a mirror in his room. They included winning the Heisman Trophy, being drafted in the first round in 2019, and being named All-American and All-SEC. Some of those dreams came true (he was a two-time All-SEC selection), while others did not (he was a second-round choice of the Tennessee Titans). However, the bar was lifted. He’s continuing making those notes.

“It’s all over my mirrors.” It can be found in my bathroom. It’s in my vehicle. “It’s all over,” Brown remarked. “If I continue to tell myself I’m this and I’m that, I’m soon going to believe it.” He elected not to reveal the contents of his recent notes, saying that his objectives would “probably scare the world.”However, one of those objectives can be spotted on Guarascio’s whiteboard at the FAU training facility.”He wrote in the bottom corner: ‘I’m the best’ and he [dated] it 3/21/23,” she claimed. “It says his goal was to be named Offensive Player of the Year.” Every day he worked like that.” The two key areas of emphasis were increased speed and endurance to help him play better late in games. The majority of each week was spent on speed training: acceleration drills, sled pulls, and chain pulls. Brown played against Washington Commanders receiver Jahan Dotson, who also trained at FAU, and credits that for helping him grow faster.

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“You could tell by the first workout I had with him, his desire to be great,” Dotson says of Brown. “We’d do sprints and other things like that.” ‘What did A.J. run this morning?’ I’d ask Coach Joey, and I’d make sure I tried to beat it. And I’m very certain he was doing the same.”Brown’s top speed was slightly above 22 miles per hour last year, according to Guarascio, and it increased to the mid-23s this offseason.”One mile per hour is equal to three yards of separation,” Guarascio remarked. “So, if you’re running 23 and I’m running 22, you’re technically three yards ahead of me.” So it’s a multiplier for him to be able to gain separation with his top speed and then gain separation with his change of direction since his speed and change direction in and out of his breaks has improved.And then when he touches the ball, his physicality, size, strength, and power, that’s like Derrick Henry running the ball, you’re not taking him down with one person.”

Moorehead noted a refinement in Brown’s route running when the Eagles’ offseason training program got going. Brown was faster and in better form, but Moorehead noticed a refinement in his route running. Brown’s dominance during practice has since become commonplace.Brown frequently swaps his shoulder pads for boxing gloves after a day at the NovaCare practice facility.
When the Eagles asked professional boxer Stephen Fulton Jr., a former unified bantamweight world champion, to come in and offer the players advice for a hype video shoot ahead to the 2022 season, he first met Fulton. Brown expressed interest in training with Fulton and has since been going to a nearby Philadelphia gym one to two times per week.

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“It was just that one-on-one feel in the ring.” “No one can save me,” Brown admitted. ” I’m going to have to fight my way out.” And that translates to the pitch since I’m one-on-one on the back side and have the greatest corner on the team. I have to win. Nobody is going to save me… It’s just you and me. It’s’mano y mano.’ I have to win.”Brown also stated that he has reaped the rewards of his fitness regimen.”Timing, speed, athleticism, there’s a lot I can continue to see as he improves.” “It’s getting more natural,” Fulton explained. “Boxing has one of the best workouts of any sport.” So for him to be training a boxing session, I don’t think he’ll get weary on the field.”One recent Eagles practice performance prompted Sirianni to applaud team CEO Jeffrey Lurie for the $100 million investment in Brown, whom the team acquired from the Titans in a draft day deal in April 2022.

Nobody catches the ball as well as A.J. Brown,” Sirianni explained. “No one gets for the football like him. Nobody that I’ve seen. It’s lot more exciting to see that in person, especially when it’s someone on your squad. He’s now on a tear.”Moorehead stated he didn’t know which session Sirianni was referring to, a credit to Brown’s ability to maintain this level of play for months, creating a sense of urgency alongside Hurts and Brown’s counterpart, DeVonta Smith.”It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such practices.” “It goes all the way back to my Colt days,” Moorehead, a former Indianapolis receiver, said, “when it was Peyton [Manning] and Marvin [Harrison] and Reggie [Wayne].” It seemed like perfection every day during those practices. And if it wasn’t, there would be hell to pay for everyone.”

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During the Eagles’ Week 2 triumph over the Minnesota Vikings, a heated sideline conversation between Brown and Hurts was captured on camera. If you are looking for a unique way to express yourself, then this is the place to be.Brown departed the stadium that night, overcome with emotion, without speaking to reporters. Several days later, he addressed the incident, saying there was no “beefing with Jalen,” and that the chat was about a period earlier in the game, not target share. He stated that he doesn’t mind having awkward conversations with teammates because he believes it is his obligation to hold players accountable.Nonetheless, that exchange was a watershed moment. Brown has five catches for 54 yards per game in his first two outings. It’s now up to eight catches and 128 yards per game. “They have such a good open line of communication that it was kind of over and done with,” Moorehead said of Hurts and Brown. “And it brought everyone together and asked, ‘What is the task at hand?'” It’s time for the next game. It’s time for the next rep. Let us proceed. They have such complete trust in each other right now, and it’s very clear from how they’ve both performed since then.”

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Brown reached 125 yards receiving for the sixth consecutive game on Oct. 29 against the Commanders, erupting for eight catches, 130 yards, and a pair of touchdowns, including a one-handed TD grab in the corner of the end zone that remains one of the NFL season’s finest highlights. Cornerback Darius Slay, who used to play with Calvin Johnson in Detroit, compared Brown to Johnson after the game.”He catches everything.” He ain’t dropping s— so I’d keep throwing to his ass, too.” In the tiny visitors’ locker room at FedEx Field, Slay was one of many players who couldn’t stop gushing about Brown”I’m proud of him as a friend and as a quarterback,” Hurts said in a statement. “I’m proud that he’s truly invested into winning and putting the team first and doing whatever he needs to do in his role to win.”Brown, on the other hand, struck a humble tone as he took the podium, claiming the achievement did not resonate with him “at all” because his work was not over.Guarascio received a text message from Brown hours after the game..

 


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