Oakland Raiders

Raiders’ Brown shows through hard work, attitude that he’s far from a ‘Bad Boy’

It’s an easy Twitter hot take to connect the Richie Incognito dot to the Vontaze Burfict dot to the Antonio Brown dot. A bad boy trifecta guaranteed to poison the Raiders locker room.

Only real life is a bit more complex and those three aren’t in the same realm when it comes to the 2019 Raiders and beyond.

The Raiders made a massive commitment to Brown in the form of a three-year contract extension with more than $30 million guaranteed.

They weren’t ready to commit to a deal with the Steelers when initial talks included premium draft picks. Once Brown’s proposed deal with Buffalo fell through, and the Raiders learned they could get the NFL’s most productive receiver over the past six years for third- and fifth-round draft picks, it changed everything.

None of that happened with Incognito, the effective but controversial and troubled guard who last played for Buffalo in 2017. Nor did it with Burfict, the former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker known for racking up fines and accused of being a cheap shot artist.

Brown will be a central figure in whatever transpires with the Raiders this season, good or bad. Incognito and Burfict will either be pleasant surprises or out the door.

Brown’s work ethic is so revered it’s almost become cliche. He employs his own chef, his own trainer and is convinced he has the ability to impose his will on any opponent.

Whatever personality quirks Brown displayed in Pittsburgh are in coach Jon Gruden’s eyes dwarfed by someone who has a passion about football that matches his own. After one play last week in practice, a play which didn’t go in Brown’s direction, Gruden called his wide receiver over for a chat. He placed his arms on Brown’s shoulder pads, looked into his eyes, and the two discussed the play. Brown nodded enthusiastically and went on to the next snap.

It’s the same way Gruden pushed Tim Brown when he arrived in 1998, and the way he consistently bent the ear of Jerry Rice, who came to Oakland in 2000 after a bitter breakup with the 49ers. Each man had an established resume that would lead to the Hall of Fame, similar to what Brown is assembling through nine seasons.

Yet rather than pushing the other receivers and leaving Rice and Tim Brown alone, Gruden challenged them to be even better. Antonio Brown is getting the same treatment.

“He challenged me from the meeting room to the field, lining me up at all kinds of positions,” Brown said. “Hurrying up the offensive tempo to see if I’m able to mentally pick up what I’m doing, lining up really fast. Never a dull day with Coach. Always challenging, always high-energy, and always detailed fundamentals.”

The difference with Antonio Brown is that while Tim Brown and Rice were detailed professionals, they weren’t forceful in the way they imparted knowledge on younger teammates. Tim Brown would make suggestions but never get in anyone’s face. Rice would stay after practice for extra work, and while younger teammates could have stayed if they wanted to, he wasn’t about to insist on it.

Both were further along in their careers, and as such just a little more detached from younger players.

Antonio Brown has already begun a system of fines for dropped passes which he’ll carry through training camp and promises he won’t be shy about making corrections or expecting more from his position group.

“We bringing the juice, challenging each other every day, competing, and holding each other accountable, knowing what to do, what not to do, and bringing it to the meetings to the practice field and being able to execute,” Brown said.

Even to the untrained eye, Brown gets after it at practice on a different level than just about everyone else, and more than just the receivers will have to keep up.

Cornerbacks and safeties have already been left in the dust. Gareon Conley looked to have Brown blanketed on a short sideline route only to have Brown somehow come up with the ball and make a double toe-tap in bounds for the catch.

Quarterback Derek Carr will hear about it when Brown is open and doesn’t get the ball, particularly if the ball goes somewhere else for minimal yardage or falls incomplete. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.

The two have already seemed to bond, working out together at various East Bay sites to get on the same page. Keep in mind Brown’s problems with quarterback Ben Roethislberger didn’t bubble to the surface until his ninth year.

“Playing football, you get mentally tired, you get frustrated,” Brown said. “You always want to have respect for the guy to know what he’s coming from, know what he stands for, know what’s important to him so you can be on the same page and do what you desire to do. And we desire to win.”

Brown will be a central figure in whatever transpires with the Raiders this season, good or bad. Incognito and Burfict will either be pleasant surprises or out the door.

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