Jaguars wide receiver Mike Brown will have an increased role with the absence of Justin Blackmon, but it's a chance that is nearly two years in the making.
Nothing about the name Mike Brown stands out. It's the name of another player that earned an NFL roster spot and another player that might make for a viable fantasy football option. While his name doesn't stand out, his journey to become a starting wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars should.
"I knew my chances were really slim to none," Brown said of his chances at the NFL.
A quarterback for the Liberty Flames of the FCS, Brown completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a senior. But measuring in at 5'11, 205 pounds, Brown was far from the prototypical NFL talent for a quarterback and needed to transition to wide receiver to have a chance at the next level.
Still, the 4.69 40-yard dash time he ran at his pro day and the 30.5 inch vertical he recorded didn't inspire much hope in his chances at the transition. There was so little faith in his abilities that he wasn't selected in the 2012 NFL Draft. Or signed after the Draft either.
While hundreds of rookies earned chances with undrafted free agent contracts, Brown was given a chance to compete at the rookie mini-camp of the Jaguars on a tryout basis.
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"I knew there were probably less than 10 people that made it from that route the year before that, but it was an opportunity and that's the only thing I could've ever asked for. Just an opportunity to go out there and compete."
He earned a contract and caught the eyes of coaches, including the team's wide receivers coach, Jerry Sullivan.
"I know Jerry Sullivan said [Brown] has a lot of the same qualities as Wes Welker," former Jaguars offensive assistant Charlie Skalaski told The Daily Progress in June 2012.
Still, that potential wasn't enough to secure a roster spot for Brown. Instead he participated as a practice squad member for all but two weeks in his rookie season, as he continued to make the transition to receiver.
"It's very similar to a redshirt in college, that's the way that I look at it," Brown said of the practice squad. "You come in and everybody is ‘The Guy' at their high school or their college, so it's a situation where you come from playing every play and being the main guy. You go from that to a situation where you're not playing at all is very tough, but it was definitely a great experience. I got to go against some good players every single day in practice and it polished my skills a little bit to prepare me for the opportunity to play when it did come."
"Whether I'm the No. 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 guy, you're always one play away from being in somebody else's role and having to step up."
The opportunity came in 2013 after Brown tallied a team-high nine receptions in preseason and earned a spot on the 53-man roster. That window of opportunity opened and shut in just 33 offensive snaps though, as Brown suffered a broken bone in his back in the team's Week 1 opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"It probably sounds a little worse than what it really is, but at the same time, it's still a broken bone on your spine," Brown said. "It was actually very painful at first, I couldn't really do much. I couldn't sit down or fall asleep, I had to sleep on the floor for a little while. It just progressed slowly and it was kind of frustrating, but I've been in for four weeks and it has been good."
In the three games since his return to the team from injury, Brown has tallied 12 receptions for 212 yards and a touchdown, including a team-high 120 yards receiving against the San Diego Chargers in a Week 7 game that featured both Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon in the lineup.
The breakout game didn't go unnoticed and earned Brown a headlining spot on Pro Football Focus' list of "Secret Superstars." Brown shrugged off praise for his contributions, though.
"It was good to get that opportunity and have the chance to make some plays," Brown said. "The quarterbacks did a good job stepping up in the pocket and making good throws, finding the open guy. All I have to do is catch and run, they made the job pretty easy for me."
With the recent suspension of Justin Blackmon, Brown is expected to have to do a lot more "catch and run" for the team, but he doesn't expect it to change much.
"Nothing will really change for me, as far as my mindset and preparation. I'll continue to prepare myself for any situation, to prepare myself as if I'm the No. 1 guy. Whether I'm the No. 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 guy, you're always one play away from being in somebody else's role and having to step up."
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Winless through the first half of the season, there is optimism for the future of the Jaguars franchise, but any remaining optimism for the 2013 season is long gone. Still, players like Brown are not at all in a "tanking" state of mind.
"I think I speak for the entire team when I say that our goal is to go out there and maximize our potential each and every day," Brown said. "Continue to get better each and every day. If we can do that, the results will come."
"Obviously we're a young team, but that's no excuse for losing games. We've made mistakes and we have to continue to learn from those mistakes."
The Jaguars will continue to get younger too. With players like Brad Meester, Jason Babin, Paul Posluszny and Maurice Jones-Drew all possibly gone in 2014, the team is on a one-way road to a top selection in the 2014 NFL Draft and will presumably continue their replacement of veterans with young talent.
"The only thing that you can worry about is what you can control," Brown said. "That type of stuff happens on every team in the NFL. They bring guys in to compete. It's a competitive environment and a competitive job, that's just the world we live in."
A world that Brown has thrived in through two seasons. With eight games left to play, eyes will be on young players competing for spots in the long-term plans of the Jaguars.
One of those players is a wide receiver that wasn't tall enough, wasn't fast enough and didn't jump high enough for the NFL. A player that earned a roster spot by the skin of his teeth and is now a bright spot on a young, rebuilding roster.
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