Imagine entering your second year in the NFL. You work your tail off all off-season, through OTAs, and into training camp and everything is pointing to a breakout season. Stories across football outlets are nothing but positive. Then a mere two weeks into the preseason, you break your ankle and are placed on injured reserve – that’s exactly what happened to Vincent Brown of the San Diego Chargers in 2012.
Brown continues to rehab, is running routes, and is ready to get back on the field with the team when the 2013 season officially kicks off. He currently appears on schedule to participate in the team’s off-season activities in an effort to continue his 2012 breakout surge. This year, however, the coaching staff is new and there are some different players, which typically would lead to uncertainty for a player who missed the prior year. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Brown, though. It might as well be 2012 redux as new head coach Mike McCoy is the newest individual to praise Brown. New coach. Same story.
However, the situation is still a little different given the presence of Danario Alexander and his second half emergence last season. Regardless, Brown’s already proven he has the talent, has developed chemistry with Philip Rivers, and has already shown he can produce at this level.
We recently spent some time with Vincent talking about his ankle, rehab status, as well as the 2013 Chargers. Click here for the full audio or read below for a synopsis.
Steve Wyremski (SW): So how’s everything going? How’s the ankle feeling?
Vincent Brown (VB): It’s feeling good. [I’ve] just been doing a lot of rehab and stuff in the off-season. Strengthening it back up doing a lot of drills to get it back in order, but overall it feels really good.
SW: Now, you were back at practice with the team at the end of December last year running routes. Where do you feel you are with the ankle right now?
VB: I just picked it up from then. I was able to get back and run some routes and get on the field. That was really helpful to just get my mindset back knowing that I was able to get out there and play again. Ever since then, I’ve just been trying to strengthen it [and] get my full range of motion back. It’s been improvement since then.
SW: So are you running routes at full speed at this point and able to plant and push off?
VB: Oh yeah. Definitely back in order and running routes. There are certain areas where you kind of get sore sometimes or I know its not as strong as it needs to be in some areas. Other than that, I’m 100% back on the field running routes and catching the ball.
SW: So is your leg strength where it was pre-injury at this point or do you still think you have a way to go on that?
VB: I got just a little bit to go. It’s pretty well along. I don’t have to baby it too much as I did when I first got out there. There are still certain areas where I know I should be a lot more explosive. It’s coming along great since I’ve been able to get back on the field.
SW: So when do you think we should expect you to be out there? Do you expect to be out there for OTAs and training camp?
VB: Oh yeah. I’ll be ready for all that.
SW: I want to spend a little time talking about that ankle injury, and specifically the mental impact. You showed some nice glimpses in your rookie season and received rave reviews during the preseason last summer, but you suffered that broken ankle in late August in a preseason game against the Cowboys. After having trained all off-season and with many expecting you to be the Chargers top wideout, what was your mindset in the weeks following surgery knowing that you’re out for a period of time?
VB: It’s tough. It’s by far the worst injury I ever had. Just knowing where I wanted to go with helping the team and trying to contribute, to not be able to do that was kind of tough watching every week and wanting to help and knowing there was nothing I could do at that time. It was definitely a mental struggle at times, but you look at a lot of players who go through a [similar situations] and you really learn a lot about yourself, how you respond, [and] how to bounce back. Like I said, it was the worst injury I’ve ever had, so I had a lot of learning to do to try and rehab [to] keep myself in it.
SW: What about post recovery and returning to the field when you look towards 2013. Some guys are a little hesitant initially bracing for a potential re-injury when they step out on the field. For example, Eric Berry returning from his ACL last year, everyone talked about how maybe he wasn’t as aggressive as he was previously – do you expect to play any differently when you return to the field later this year?
VB: If anything, it’ll make me stronger and play harder knowing that I wasn’t able to play and help last year. I know that this year I’ll have a little extra drive. It’ll push me to play harder and to enjoy being out there more. When you get injured, it wakes you up.
SW: What about any long-term impacts of the broken ankle on your game and natural ability (i.e., explosion / willingness to go over the middle to risk another injury)?
VB: Nah, not at all… not at all. This game I love playing, man. Just to be back out there… that’s enough to get me going. When you’re held out for a long time and not able to do something, the first thing you want to do when you get back on the field is play. I remember when I got back to practice, I felt like a little kid out there just being able to run again. It was such a great feeling just to be able to do all of that. I don’t think it’ll be anything different once I’m able to get back on the field.
SW: You’re certainly walking into a different situation this year with the new coaching staff. Within the last week or so, there were reports out of San Diego, as I’m sure you’re well aware, that new head Coach Mike McCoy said he has “high hopes” for you praising your route running. With a new coaching staff coming in, what does that mean for you?
VB: I think it means as much as it does for everybody else. We all got to go in there and play our game and try to do what we can to make this team win. That’s the main focus of everybody. We have plenty of guys in there with talent and guys who are able to go out there and do their job.
SW: As I mentioned, Coach McCoy praised your route running ability, which is known to be quality if you look at any scouting reports on you or you watch your tape. Antonio Gates praised it as well. When I watch you on the field, I see a guy with solid ball skills and a guy knows how to get open. In your eyes, what’s your best attribute as a receiver?
VB: I’d definitely say my route running. I remember coming out of college and going to the Combine and all of that stuff. A lot of people knew I wasn’t the biggest or the fastest receiver, so I always knew throughout my career if I got my route running as solid as I [could], it’d help in the areas I lack. So, route running and how to set DBs up in situations [are my best attributes].
SW: Are you still developing your route tree at this point or do you have that pretty well set?
VB: The funny thing about route running is that there’s always something you can do to improve a route. The thing I learned from a lot of different vets is that there are always things you can do to tweak your routes. When you pop in old film and when I look at film from my rookie year, it may have been the same offense, but there are a lot of things you can pick at — maybe I could have made this step here or maybe I should have [sold] it a little more here. Your route tree is never the same.
SW: Going back to your rookie season you started four games in the middle of the year. Over those four games, you played a significant number of snaps with over 80% in each game. The first two games you started against Green Bay and Oakland were solid performances and Philip Rivers relied on you quite a bit in those games. How would you classify your chemistry with Rivers?
VB: It’s grown a lot. Just from my rookie year, trying to come in and establish myself and find a role, it’s definitely come a long way. It was a learning process my first couple of years trying to get the offense down. There’s a lot on your shoulders as a rookie: trying to get chemistry, trying to learn routes, and trying to play an NFL game for the first few times. It’s a lot you have to break down. The more you do it, the more chemistry you build.
SW: There have been a number of reports over the last year or so that Rivers’ arm strength is weakening. Being one of his receivers, have you or did you notice that at all?
VB: I think Philip’s fine. If anyone’s hard on himself, it’s definitely Philip. He knows what he has to do. I think he’s fine. We just gotta go to work. There were a lot of different factors that we had last year. People can speculate and say different things, but for us, we have our players and know what we’re going to do. It’s just a matter of going to work and fine-tuning things we slipped on last year.
SW: While you were out with the injury in 2012, Danario Alexander had himself a solid second half to the 2012 season. He’s a RFA this year, but assuming he returns which many assume to be likely, how do you see his presence impacting your role in the offense?
VB: He’s a great addition. Being to be able to pick him up and have him do the things he did was very helpful. It’s just another added weapon to the offense. Hopefully we’ll be able to get him back. He showed he can play and do some damn good things when he’s out there on the field. The more weapons we have and with the players we have, we can definitely turn some heads in this league.
SW: I see you’re running a camp out at the University of San Diego in July with Nick Hardwick. Tell me a bit about that.
VB: It’s just a fun time for kids in the community. I did this camp back home last year and a lot of kids come out to work on fundamentals and technique; certain things they can take back to their game in high school. It’s helpful when you have guys come back and help you with certain drills or things you need to get better [at]. It was always helpful to me when I was in high school. It’s definitely a lot of fun.
The opportunity is ripe for Brown again in 2013. Given the praise he’s already received from the new coaching staff well before stepping on the field in their presence, as well as the overwhelming admiration of his route running, Brown is a solid candidate for a 2013 breakout season. Click here for the full audio of our exclusive interview.