Antonio Brown wasn't signed to the Redskins' active roster until Nov. 13, 2004, and he didn't see the field until Week 15 at San Francisco's Monster Park. By the end of the season, Brown had shown his fair share of quickness as a return specialist.
Throughout training camp 2005, which opened on Monday, Brown hopes to make his mark as both a return man and as a reserve wide receiver. Given his game-breaking speed, he's clearly a player to watch. During the June mini-camp, head coach Joe Gibbs singled him out as a player who had stood out in the offseason-and not just as a return specialist. He has opened eyes at wide receiver.
"He has looked extremely good at receiver," Gibbs said in mid-June. "I've been super-impressed with him. He's probably caught as many deep balls as anybody out there. He has to be one of the fastest players in the NFL."
Thus far in his NFL career, he has excelled at kickoff and punt returns. Playing for the first time at FedExField, Brown took the field on Jan. 2 against the Minnesota Vikings determined to put the Redskins into a position to score right off the bat. Brown fielded the opening kickoff at his own 2-yard-line and returned it 66 yards to the Minnesota 32-yard line.
Eight plays later, Patrick Ramsey threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cooley. Brown's big return gave the Redskins early momentum that they used to earn a 21-18 victory over the playoff-bound Vikes.
"I had 10 guys in front of me who were doing a heck of a job," Brown said after that game. "They let me do what I can do, which is run. You always want to make a statement on a kickoff return."
Brown understood the importance of his return and how it set up the Redskin offense in the early going. He put it this way: "The NFL is a battle for field position and special teams creates field position."
Said Brown. "If we can create good field position to prevent our offense from having to go 80 or 90 yards, we've done our job."
A West Virginia product in his second NFL season, Brown had been the Bills' primary punt and kickoff returner in 2003 but was cut prior to the 2004 campaign.
Brown was signed by the Redskins last November after Chad Morton injured a ligament in his left knee against the Packers in Week 8 and was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. With Ladell Betts and James Thrash playing ahead of him for six weeks, Brown had to wait to get his chance to play. That came in Week 15 at San Francisco. Against the 49ers, Brown returned three punts, none for more than four yards, as the Redskins picked up a 26-16 win.
The following week in Dallas, Brown let his presence be known. With 5:12 left in the first quarter, Brown fielded a Dallas punt at his own 38-yard line and returned it 39 yards to the Dallas 23. That effort set up a 25-yard field goal by Jeff Chandler, giving the Redskins a 3-0 lead.
But with the Redskins holding a 10-6 lead and 2:33 left in the fourth quarter, disaster struck. Brown fumbled the ball after returning a punt seven yards. Dallas recovered on the Redskins' 42-yard line.
The Redskins' defense held but it was burned on the next possession as Dallas quarterback Vinny Testaverde hurled a 39-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Crayton with 30 seconds left to give the Cowboys a 13-10 win.
However, the 5-10, 175-pound Brown was able to turn that Week 16 blunder into Week 17 success versus Minnesota. Of his ability to rebound from the fumble at Dallas, Brown said: "In the NFL, you have to have a short-term memory. You have to get it out of your head and I did."
In college, Brown caught 155 passes for 1,905 yards and five touchdowns in his four-year (1998-2001) career as a wide receiver at West Virginia. When Brown had no takers in the NFL, he opted for the Canadian Football League, where he spent the 2002 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
As a wide receiver in the CFL, he finished the 2002 season registering 14 receptions for 208 yards (14.9 average) and two touchdowns. His signature game came against the Toronto Argonauts on June 28, when he caught three passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.
In 2003, Brown was picked up by the Bills, where he played for current Redskins special teams coordinator Danny Smith. Additionally, the head coach of that Buffalo team was Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach in charge of defense.
Brown and Santana Moss both ran track versus one another as sprinters in the Big East--Brown at West Virginia and Moss at Miami. Footnote: Moss won in the 60-meter dash in the Big East championships.
Of course, everybody knows Moss; soon, the same could be said for Brown. If he can prove that he can hold onto the ball as a return man, Antonio Brown can really give the Redskins' special teams units a boost. And, according to Gibbs, he could be a factor at wide receiver.