Marquise “Hollywood” Brown had made the walk onto the Ravens’ practice field many times before. He knew Wednesday’s would be remembered differently, for everything that had happened before and everything that now lay ahead.
A day earlier, the rookie wide receiver and first-round draft pick had been cleared to practice after passing his physical, the last step of rehabilitation from a Lisfranc injury suffered in early December. For nearly the next nine months, the foot fracture was inseparable from Brown’s football career. There was the January loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals, in which he played through the pain; the surgery he underwent to address it; the predraft process, where his foot’s health hung over his every rise and fall; and finally the offseason, where he couldn’t do much at practice but wait.
Throughout the first week of training camp, Brown had been mostly stationary, limited to catching passes. On Wednesday morning, he did more. Not much more, but it was progress, all the same. Following him around the field was akin to birdwatching: Wait around long enough, and you might see something interesting. But first, be prepared to wait.
8:43 a.m.: His helmet in hand, a purple Ravens bandanna across his forehead, Brown walks out of the team facility and onto the field for practice. “Oh, man, I was very excited,” he said afterward. “I’ve been waiting on this.”
8:46: Standing at the front of a line of stretching Ravens, Brown warms up with the team. With his helmet on, he’s a head shorter than fellow rookie and roommate Miles Boykin. Through five practices, the third-round pick has been the team’s most impressive wide receiver. “I’m just trying to feed off what he’s doing and, once I’m on the field, complement him as best as I can," Brown said.
8:49: As positional drills start, Brown moves with the team’s wide receivers and assistant coach David Culley to another field. A handful of reporters follows him.
8:54: Brown’s the last of the receivers to go through a simple drill. A fan screams, “Hollywood!” from the stands nearby as he moves to his starting spot. “Nice and easy,” Culley reminds Brown, who catches his short, uncontested, over-the-shoulder pass nicely and easily.
8:58: Another receiving drill, but more difficult now: Brown takes an outside release and makes a one-handed catch, as instructed. Fans ooh and aah.
8:59: Brown’s second go through the drill isn’t as smooth. The pass hits his right hand, then falls to the grass. “We see the ball on the ground, we coming back,” Culley says as Brown circles back. He ribs Brown: “It’s hard to drop these balls. To drop these balls, you gotta be blind.” Brown catches the next ball.
9:00: Brown and quarterback Lamar Jackson, both products of Florida’s Broward County, dap up. Off the field, they’ve bonded over their shared roots — and appreciation of rapper Kodak Black. On the field, their first connection is on a 5-yard curl route. After that, a 10-yard out.
9:06: After Jackson overshoots a short pass to Brown, they line up for their final repetition of the period. It’s a go route, and Brown isn’t holding much back. But the pass sails far overhead. “He’s fast,” a fan nearby says, “but not that fast.”
9:12: As full-team drills get underway on another field, Brown stays behind. About 10 yards from Brown, two team staffers feed a ball every few seconds into a Jugs machine. He catches most of them.
9:21: In 11-on-11 action, Jackson throws a picture-perfect deep cross to wide receiver Seth Roberts, then finds Boykin for another nice completion. Behind the play, watching, is Brown. Standing next to fellow rookie wideouts Joe Horn Jr. and Jaylen Smith, he studies sheets of paper. He’s “pretty caught up” with the Ravens’ formations and play concepts, he said afterward.
9:35: Back in positional drills, Culley has his receivers absorb a hit from a padded blocking shield before running a short out route. Brown’s hit appears quite light.
9:45: Brown continues to observe during contact drills. After kneeling, he gets up a little gingerly.
10:09: An NFL Films camera is pointed at Brown, idling on the sideline. It’s not a dynamic scene.
10:27: Ravens executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta, executive vice president Ozzie Newsome and director of player personnel Joe Hortiz watch from their seats in a nearby equipment shed as the offense walks through a series of plays. Brown is inserted for the last one, then takes quarter-speed steps at the snap. It’s a play for someone else.
10:45: His arms crossed, Brown stands off to the side during another positional drill: Receivers dive for an imaginary pylon as a staffer knocks them with a blocking pad.
10:50: With special teams drills taking up one practice field (and many of the receivers), Brown stays behind with Culley, Jackson, and quarterbacks Joe Callahan and Robert Griffin III, who’s still not cleared to throw. The passes start off simply: back-shoulder throws to the sideline.
11:01: After moving on to some hitch routes, Brown starts to speed up. He runs briskly through some diagonal routes to the end zone, covering about 20 yards first, then about 30, before making tip-toe catches near the sideline. After each reception (and the occasional incompletion), he conferences with Culley. “David Culley’s one of the best in the business,” Harbaugh said afterward. “He’s probably the best in the business at what he does. ... The coaching he’s getting out here is second to none.”
11:13: The final horn of practice blows. Brown and Jackson run over to the team huddle, smiling and laughing. As part of his “rookie duties,” Brown sometimes has to drive Jackson home from practice. They talk about “football, life, whatever.” He’s confident their chemistry will translate to production. “I feel like it’s going to be good, so when I get on the field, it’s like, we’re not trying to just learn everything,” Brown said. “He’s got a sense of how fast I run. I’ve got a sense of how he wants to throw things.”
11:30: After Brown poses for a photo, a Ravens public relations official approaches him on the field. He’ll be talking to reporters for the first time since early May.
11:35: With an autograph line ahead, Brown grabs a permanent marker from a team staffer and begins signing as much paraphernalia as possible: the back of a Lamar Jackson jersey, a towel, a hat, a football. He takes a selfie with a fan’s camera. He smiles and flashes the “Rock on” sign with both hands for a photo with teenagers from Baltimore’s Next One Up foundation.
11:44: Brown hands off his marker after one last autograph and heads over to a cluster of about a dozen reporters and camera operators.
11:45: Brown’s asked about the next step in his recovery (“I really don’t know. I’m just taking it day-by-day”), whether he can run at full speed (“I’d beat you, probably”), the anticipation for his return around Baltimore (“It probably doesn’t bother me what other people think”) and his training regimen (“I’ll just focus on my strength and my speed”). He answers politely and softly.
11:50: After about 4½ minutes, the interview starts to wind down. “I’m sorry, guys. He’s got to go,” a public relations official announces to the assembled media. “Good job,” the official tells Brown as he heads for the team facility.
11:51: Brown opens to the doors to the facility, bound for whatever’s next on the schedule. “It’s the first step,” Harbaugh said. “Until they’re out there and cleared, you don’t have them. Once they get out there, they start that trek.”