- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

Antonio Brown doesn’t dance around the question the way he does would-be tacklers. Asked whether he’s the NFL’s fastest man, Washington’s diminutive punt returner declared, “There’s no doubt.” The NFL’s “Fastest Man” competition is defunct, but if it weren’t, Brown definitely could challenge for the title.

He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, but he’s more like 5-7. Brown has long made up for his lack of size with his speed.

“Growing up in the inner city, you’re running everywhere,” the Miami native said. “You run across the street to the store. You run to the park. Everywhere I went I was the fastest person.”

But not in every race. At West Virginia, Brown finished second in the Big East 60-meter dash to Miami’s Santana Moss, now the main threat to his status as the Redskins’ return specialist.

“I’m not a track guy,” the 26-year-old Brown said. “I have flat-out speed. Santana has perfect technique. With [that] and his ability, he nudged me out. On the track, he’s something special.”

Brown was special enough at West Virginia to catch 151 passes, including 101 as a sophomore and junior, so his hands aren’t an issue. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who won Super Bowls with Smurf-like wideouts Virgil Seay, Alvin Garrett, Clarence Verdin and Gary Clark and is starting the similarly undersized Moss and David Patten this season, is giving Brown a look at receiver. Brown signed with Washington on Nov.11 and returned punts in the last three games of 2004.

“I like Antonio as a receiver,” Gibbs said. “He’s a talented guy. He has had some of the bigger plays for us [in practice].”

That opportunity to make something happen on offense is something Brown didn’t really receive in Buffalo in 2003 or last summer. Redskins defensive boss Gregg Williams, then coaching the Bills, said he regrets not giving Brown more of a shot at receiver.

“It was different here from day one,” Brown said. “I want to thank the Redskins for giving me the opportunity to play receiver. I think I’m a pretty good receiver.”

Brown and Moss were the only Redskins to catch at least two passes in the Aug.6 scrimmage at Baltimore. Although Brown came on with the third team in Saturday’s preseason opener at Carolina, he led all wideouts with three catches for 37 yards, including a 21-yarder across the middle. And Brown has been getting extra practice reps with expected No.3 receiver Taylor Jacobs injured.

Moss, Patten, Jacobs, James Thrash, Kevin Dyson and Darnerien McCants are all more experienced at receiver, but Gibbs said Brown’s fearlessness returning punts has earned him a shot on offense.

“A guy that size, if he can run back a kick, he can play anything else,” Gibbs said. “Running back a kick takes as much courage as anything in sports. To stand back there, field a ball and realize you’ve got 10 guys trying to kill you takes real concentration.”

Even if playing time at receiver doesn’t materialize, Brown is favored to win a roster spot solely as a return specialist, especially since the coaches don’t seem inclined to use Moss in that capacity.

Brown’s 39-yard punt return Dec.26 at Dallas, his two touchdowns on punt returns in preseason 2003 and his 75-yard kickoff return in the 2003 finale against Super Bowl champion New England prove his game-breaking talent. While Brown didn’t distinguish himself on kickoff returns Saturday with a 16.7 yard average, he showed his shiftiness with a 20-yarder on one of his two punt returns. Undrafted rookies Rich Parson and Steven Harris were the only other players to get a chance to return kickoffs or punts against Carolina.

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