TAMPA — The hat he wore, like his opportunity to restart his career, was a gift from TB12.
New Bucs receiver Antonio Brown smiled broadly when he talked about his first football practice in more than a year Wednesday.
He expressed gratitude without his trademark confrontational attitude.
He indicated that the Bucs and quarterback Tom Brady — probably the biggest reason Brown was signed last month — may be getting the same Pro Bowl receiver but an improved person.
“I’m just super grateful to be here in such a great organization, to be around some great players,” Brown said following his first practice with the team. "For me, first and foremost, being away from the game for a year and a half, just to be able to be part of the process and be out there with the guys (Wednesday) was surreal, something I don’t take for granted, something I have a great appreciation for, a better perspective about and a lot of gratification to do what I love.
“I took a lot of time off from the game to re-evaluate myself, to look within, to get a better perspective of myself and (to work) on myself within and without. We followed the mission to get back on track. It’s what I’m here to do.”
On Tuesday, Brown completed an eight-game NFL suspension stemming from his arrest in January, when he was accused of attacking the driver of a moving van at his Hollywood, Fla., home. He pleaded no contest in June to a felony burglary with battery charge and two lesser misdemeanor charges.
Though Wednesday’s practice was a walk-through workout indoors — his first practice since September 2019, when he played one game with Brady and the Patriots — Brown was moving at a quicker pace than other players.
“He was going full speed,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Everyone else was walking, and he was going full speed, and that’s him anyway. It was good. Guys were helping him. He’s got a really good handle on what we’re trying to get done formationally and everything. It was great interaction with all the guys and a good start to the week.”
Brown’s role in Sunday night’s game against the Saints at Raymond James Stadium is unknown. The Bucs won’t determine whether receiver Chris Godwin, who has a fractured index finger, will be able to even practice and catch a ball until Friday.
With apologies to other mea culpists, Brown struck the best tone Wednesday.
He spoke in a subdued manner, sounding nothing like the “diva” that Arians said he had become over the years.
Brown thanked Brady, especially for connecting him with motivational life coach Tony Robbins. He said he has worked on his anger issues.
“I spent a lot of time sitting with him, developing some positive things within, changing my outlook on a couple of things,” Brown said. "Battling to keep away from anger — you know, just being able to be positive and see the positive in things, not letting my emotion or frustration ruin my outlook of what’s in front of me.
“I just feel like I’m a better person. I’m not a different person, but I’m a better person. I learned a lot about myself working on myself for a year and a half.”
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Arians has called Brown “an insurance policy” for his receiving corps. But since 2018, this is Browns' third organization.
He spent nine seasons with the Steelers, from 2010-18, before reportedly growing dissatisfied with his role. Pittsburgh traded him to Oakland in March 2019. The Raiders released him after six bizarre, chaotic months, before he had played a regular-season game with them.
The Patriots signed him in September of that year. His career with them consisted of four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown in a 43-0 win over the Dolphins in Week 2 last season. Brown was released following sexual-assault allegations brought against him by a former trainer. Brown has denied the allegations.
Brown could face further punishment from the league as it continues to look into those allegations by the former trainer, who has filed a lawsuit against him.
Brown said he wasn’t sure if he would make it back to the NFL, but he never lost hope.
“I’ve just been spending a lot of time with family, working on myself from within and just staying resilient,” Brown said. "Keeping the mind on a mission: that’s being a football player and doing all the things that come with that, even when the times got hard. Keeping myself in shape. Keeping myself motivated by not listening to the naysayers and not giving doubt or worries about would I be able to return.
“I had good trainers, good people around me in my corner. They kept me encouraged. They kept me motivated, and I just believed that one day I would get a chance to be back in this position, and I just tried to check every box to make sure when I was able to get back that I was ready to go.”
Brown is well aware there are many who don’t believe he deserves this chance.
“Well, hopefully I can change their perspective,” Brown said. “Being around great people, a great organization … hopefully I can win (naysayers) over with my actions, how I move forward and how I handle my business.”
Brown declined to answer a question about living in Brady’s home in Tampa while getting acclimated. But nobody has masked Brady’s interest in being reunited with him.
Also, the Bucs have three assistant coaches — offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, offensive assistant Antwaan Randle-El and linebackers coach Larry Foote — who were teammates of Brown’s with the Steelers, and all endorsed the addition.
“Tom is my boy, one of the greatest leaders to be around,” Brown said. "He’s encouraging. Always inspiring. He brings out the best in the people around him. He wants the best for everyone around him. He’s the greatest quarterback of all time.
“He’s always getting better day in and day out, and I’ve just learned a lot from him. How he trains. How he takes care of himself professionally. His discipline. His work ethic. His approach. He’s been a great guy in my corner and one of my close friends.”