Brown looks like an action hero after adding more than 20 pounds of muscle and rebounding from foot surgery.
Marquise Brown slapped Marlon Humphrey‘s arm away to elude press coverage, planted his fully healed left foot to execute a double move and quickly sprinted to get a couple of yards behind the Pro Bowl cornerback for a touchdown catch.
After letting out a couple of screams, Humphrey told Brown during Tuesday’s training camp practice, “I thought I had you, Hollywood. I thought I had you.”
In the blink of an eye, the Ravens wide receiver nicknamed “Hollywood” revealed the results of an entire offseason dedicated to a stunning physical transformation.
Brown left the Ravens facility at the end of last season weighing 157 pounds, looking more like Lamar Jackson‘s favorite Uber driver than his favorite wide receiver target. He returned sporting a chiseled, 180-pound physique, which came from tirelessly working out and endlessly chewing.
In bulking up 23 pounds in two months, Brown pushed sleds of weights, hopped up steep hills on one leg and ate six times a day.
“You’re going to see one of the best and fastest players in the NFL,” said Daniel Harper, Brown’s personal trainer. “I’m not just talking Ravens, I’m talking the whole league. You’re going to see the real Marquise.”
No other Ravens offensive player has ever received this much hype entering his second season, not even Jackson, the reigning NFL MVP. Last year at this time, Jackson was facing questions whether he could become a legitimate NFL quarterback. This offseason, Brown has been touted as the answer to Baltimore’s deep passing game.
Teammates and fans alike have been amazed at the difference in Brown. Seven of his workout videos on YouTube have totaled 697,000 views. From his rookie season to this one, he has gone from a player with one healthy foot to a viral sensation for catching up to passes that he launched from a Jugs machine from the other end of his driveway.
“I feel 100 times better than I did last year,” Brown said. “All I’ve got to do now is focus on plays instead of focusing on my feet.”
Brown had Lisfranc surgery on his left foot in January 2019 and still led all Baltimore wide receivers with 46 catches and seven touchdowns despite not being 100 percent. He never complained. He just exclaimed. Brown repeatedly told teammates week after week, “I can’t wait until next year!”
Two weeks after the season ended in January, Brown had two screws removed from his foot, a common procedure with this type of surgery. He walked out of the recovery room with a protective boot, experiencing no more pain. There was simply relief.
Feeling better than he had anticipated, Brown set his sights high and didn’t want to settle for getting back to his form at the University of Oklahoma. He wanted his body to become bigger, stronger and faster. His multiple workouts per day lasted for months before hitting a cyclical snag.
“It took time for the weight to actually even stick on me,” Brown said. “I would gain the weight, lose it, gain it, lose it.”
Putting on the pounds
Near the end of June, Brown got connected with a personal trainer through a mutual friend. Harper, the founder of EYT Spartans and the head track and field coach at Calvert Hall High School near Baltimore, set up Brown with a nutritional plan that required a grocery trip to a wholesale club.
One of the most difficult changes for Brown was ditching his go-to meal at McDonald’s. He couldn’t down 20 pieces of nuggets, a McDouble cheeseburger and a sweet tea in one sitting.
His routine was being changed to a 4,000-calorie diet of “eating clean.”
Breakfast (around 7:30 a.m.): Four boiled eggs and oatmeal
Snack (9:30 a.m.): Protein shake and two tablespoons of peanut butter
Lunch (noon): A protein (steak, chicken or lamb) with rice, potatoes and greens
Snack (2 p.m.): Protein shake, 10 ounces of almond milk, one banana and two tablespoons of peanut butter
Dinner (5 p.m.): A protein (steak, chicken or salmon) with rice, potatoes and greens
Snack (7:30 p.m.): Protein shake, 10 ounces of almond milk, yogurt and two tablespoons of peanut butter
“Everybody gets tired of eating when I help them,” Harper said.
There were times when Brown didn’t want to eat. His family pushed him, reminding him of his goals. Brown’s girlfriend would often greet him after workouts with a jar of peanut butter.
Brown and the Ravens are hoping added weight will help him with durability, blocking and shedding tackles. It’s difficult for smaller receivers to succeed in the NFL. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been three receivers under 180 pounds who’ve produced 1,000-yard seasons over the past decade: DeSean Jackson, John Brown and Nate Washington.
“That was a happy moment when you get on that scale and you’re like, ‘I’m at a weight I’ve never been before,'” Brown said. “I don’t feel any of the weight. I just feel more powerful.”
Hop to it
Brown believed the best way for him to ascend in the league was to get back to his roots — or hills, in this instance.
From the age of 10 to 15, Brown and one of his cousins would tackle the hills at Vista View Park in Davie, Florida. They would run straight up them. They would run routes while climbing them. They would even alternate hopping on one leg to get to the top.
“That made the player who I am today,” Brown said. “That was something I should get back to. A lot of time you get to college and the NFL, you get away from things you did when you were younger. Doing the hills brought back a lot of memories for me.”
Brown’s first meeting with Harper was at a reservoir in suburban Baltimore known for its steep hills. Brown went up one 60-degree incline to reach the parking lot. But he wasn’t done. Staring at him was another hill with a 75-degree incline.
It’s challenging for most to get up those hills by running. Brown accomplished this one hop at a time. This plyometric conditioning strengthens calf muscles and leads to single-leg power.
“You’re going to see him be able to be way more explosive in and out of cuts,” Harper said. “When he gets the ball and he gets an inch or a foot, good luck. I’d love to see him race Tyreek Hill and anybody else who wants to challenge him.”
Brown is decidedly faster than he was a year ago. As a rookie, he topped out at 20.62 miles per hour, which was tied for 107th among wide receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Mohamed Sanu registered the top speed for all wide receivers last season at 24.87 mph.
This offseason, Brown tracked himself at 22 mph but believes he can exceed that.
“It must’ve just clicked for him this offseason, really, to get healthy, to start eating right, to start training harder,” Ravens head strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders said. “It would’ve been really easy to sit in the sofa the past four months and do nothing, and I think we can all ask ourselves that, ‘Have we really utilized the past four months of this pandemic time?’ I think to Hollywood’s credit, he got after it; he got after it a couple hours a day. I saw him in the hall and I’m excited to take where he’s at now and keep building on that.”
No one on the Ravens is more important in Jackson’s next step as a passer than Brown.
Jackson has repeatedly said this offseason that he wants to improve his downfield passing. Last season, he completed 17 passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, which ranked 22nd in the NFL.
But those numbers were when Brown’s reps in practice had to be monitored and his foot was a concern. The last time Brown was healthy was at Oklahoma in 2019, when he averaged 17.5 yards per reception and led the Power 5 with eight touchdowns of 25 yards or longer.
In the first two days of training camp, Brown has blown past a Ravens secondary that is considered to be among the best in the league.
“I feel like he is going to have a huge jump — more than people may think,” Jackson said. “He was hurt last year. People didn’t know that. But he went out there and battled his tail off each and every game on a messed-up foot. And now his full potential is going to show this year, I feel. He’s still young, but he is going to show off. And my job is to get the ball out quicker, because he’s a lot faster with that foot at 100 percent.”
Brown finished last season with 46 catches, which ranked 54th in the league and eighth among rookies. He wasn’t even the most productive rookie receiver named Brown (the Titans’ A.J. Brown had 52 receptions).
What’s the realistic jump for Brown? Recent history says he could total 70 to 80 receptions this season. In the last decade, eight receivers who had at least 40 catches as rookies improved their reception total by 30 in their second seasons. The Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster produced the biggest bump with 53 more receptions than he had his rookie season.
The Ravens aren’t putting a ceiling on Brown after seeing the commitment he made this offseason.
“I think last year, all of us, to a man, were saying, ‘Wow, once Hollywood has an offseason — a real offseason — wow, that’s going to be something,'” Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “So I think we are going to see that this year. He’s been working really hard. He’s not dealing with certain aspects that he had to deal with last year, and he did a great job of fighting through that and battling through it. He was frustrated at times, but he really managed those frustrations and diverted those towards being productive, so that was a really good sign of maturity. And I really think he’s had a great offseason, physically, and [I’m] very excited about what that looks like this year. [I] can’t wait to get the ball rolling.”