As controversy over missed practices, preferred helmets and frostbitten feet swirls and surrounds Antonio Brown, Raiders coach Jon Gruden took a firm stance of support for his absent superstar wideout.
“We’re gonna support him,” Gruden told reporters Saturday night following the Raiders‘ 14-3 preseason home win against the L.A. Rams. “And whatever his decision is, we’ll stand by it. But we’re confident he’s going to be a huge factor for the Raiders for years to come.”
As the Raiders had their first preseason game and chance to debut a host of fresh talent, they were also just a day removed from NFL Network’s Michael Silver reporting that, in addition to a bizarre injury of frostbitten feet due to a failure of wearing proper footwear during cryogenic therapy, Brown has been bothered to a great degree by an NFL mandate to switch to a new model of helmet. And with Brown unable to play and practice with the helmet he wants, he has not been playing or practicing at all.
Brown has practiced only twice during training camp.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport added Friday that the former Steelers receiver had filed a grievance with the league in regards to the enforcement of helmet regulations and took part in a hearing involving an independent arbitrator.
Brown is reportedly upset because he can no longer wear a helmet he has worn for the past decade.
Gruden was equally supportive and optimistic on Saturday, as he didn’t hesitate to exclaim his wishful thinking that the All-Pro receiver who the Raiders acquired via offseason trade would show up for the upcoming week’s preseason practices.
“Man, I hope so,” Gruden said. “There’s been a lot of reports out there. I can’t say I agree with all of them, certainly. But I support this guy, I think that’s what needs to be said.”
At that point, Gruden found some fire in his belly and resolutely defended Brown on two points that have confounded fans and media alike in recent days.
He began by rallying a defense of Brown’s foot injuries, shifting any blame from A.B. before likewise backing the receiver’s puzzling fight against wearing a safer helmet. Gruden, however, did not take a stance against the league.
“I don’t know what anybody’s writing or anybody thinks, but this foot injury wasn’t his fault. This was a total accident. It really wasn’t his fault and it’s a serious injury. I know some people are smarting at it, but it’s really not a laughing matter. The guy was hurt. He’s innocent, he didn’t do anything wrong,” said Gruden, who later called the injury an accident. “And the helmet thing is a personal matter to him. He has a strong feeling about what he’s worn on his head and we’re supporting him. We understand the league’s position as well, so we’re in a tough spot. And we hope Antonio is back here soon, because he’s exciting to be around. I’m excited. I got some plays for him, I hope we can start calling them.”
There has been speculation that if Brown does not get his way in terms of being allowed to wear his helmet of choice, he might sit out or even retire. Gruden wasn’t ready to comment on that, but did emphasize his belief that Brown is dedicated to the game.
“I have a lot of confidence that he’s one of the premier competitors I’ve ever been around. And I got a feeling he would play with no helmet, that’s how much he loves to play,” Gruden said. “But I’m not gonna put words in anybody’s mouth.”
While Gruden spoke of Brown’s presence for years to come, right now Brown’s presence for any days to come remains in question.
The Raiders coached had backed his star, but whether Brown is back at practice is to be determined in the continuing saga that is A.B.