Brandon Marshall is back. And he’s in a “special” place.
And not just because he’s playing in Denver, where the six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver started his career a dozen years ago.
The 34-year-old the rest of the NFL thought was done this spring after a career-worst season with the New York Giants then two surgeries is far from finished. Marshall will begin the 2018 season as a prominent part of the Seahawks’ offense, and in their game plan for his Seattle debut Sunday against his former Broncos.
He is also back to being 100-percent healthy. For the first time in 11 years, he says.
That has the first NFL player to catch 100 passes in six different seasons, who is second among all active receivers with 959 receptions (Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald has 1,234), setting a huge goal for this season.
NFL comeback player of the year.
If Marshall achieves that, Seattle’s no-risk, one-year contract for the veteran minimum base salary of just over $1 million Marshall signed this spring will be the league’s biggest bargain.
“I absolutely believe that that’s (achievable),” he said Thursday of the comeback award, before he and quarterback Russell Wilson extended their summer of constant pitch-and-catch in practice for the 13th opener of Marshall’s career.
“I’m a competitor. That’s why I’m here. And I think the reason why I’m still playing is because I never felt like I’ve ever arrived, right? I always feel like you can get better. Definitely had to overcome a lot of obstacles.
“But that,” he said of comeback player of the year, “is the goal. That’s my mindset.”
That mindset changed for the better last week.
While many fixated on Marshall’s lack of targets and catches in meaningless preseason games, the Seahawks slowly paced him back from his toe and ankle surgeries last fall then hamstring injury in June. As August ground on, his new team incrementally increased his repetitions at practices. For him and the Seahawks, those were far more meaningful than the exhibition games.
Throughout August, he consistently schooled Seattle’s cornerbacks. He bodied them and ripped passes from them, especially near the goal line and in the end zone. Coaches had backup quarterback Austin Davis lead the offense during scrimmages focused on running the ball while sending Wilson and Marshall to the field’s opposite end. There, by themselves, Wilson and Marshall worked more on back-shoulder throws along the sideline.
Then after practices, Wilson and Marshall threw and caught some more.
Though they’ve yet to play a real game together, Wilson calls his chemistry with Marshall already “really smooth, actually.”
“I think (it’s) his understanding of the game,” Wilson said. “I think he’s caught over 950 footballs before in the National Football League. There’s guys that haven’t even played 950 plays.
“Think about how many catches he’s had. He’s a true superstar. He can make all the plays. I think he loves the game, too, as well. We’ve been friends before too, so we’ve known each other through PAO (Pro Athletes Outreach, a Christian-based community for professional players). Just knowing each other around the league, been fond of his work for years.”
The Seahawks lost tight end Jimmy Graham in free agency and Green Bay this offseason. That left Wilson without his physically superior red-zone target.
Then the 6-foot-5, 232-pound Marshall arrived.
By the second week of August it became clear Marshall wasn’t only going to make the team but could be Seattle’s No. 2 receiver behind Doug Baldwin. He has shown he could be a huge, potentially dominant target for new offensive coordinator and play caller Brian Schottenheimer to maximize near the goal line.
“Last week was the first week where I felt like 100 percent (healthy),” Marshall said. “Now it’s just knocking the rust off and getting in game shape. Two days before the Oakland game (last Thursday’s preseason finale) is when I was like, ‘Wow, OK, this is what it feels like to be where I was for most of my career!’ So I’m excited about that.
“With that in mind, they haven’t seen a lot of that, right? There’s a lot of things that I haven’t been able to do because I’ve been nursing this or nursing that or recovering from this or that. I’m still trying to prove myself to not only the world, but also most importantly my teammates and my coaches here.”
As the introspective Marshall said: “On paper, it’s a 34-year old receiver with two down years. So every day I go out there, I remind myself I want to prove to No. 3 what type of receiver I am and what he has out there. And to Coach Schotty, the same thing.”
Marshall said this summer his toe had bothered him since 2015. That was his last 100-catch season, with the Jets.
Asked Thursday if this is the best he’s felt since then, Marshall went back way farther than three years ago.
“Well, actually I got the toe (injury) my second year in the league, against Oakland,” he said.
That was in 2007.
Yes, Marshall has been playing injured and in pain in the NFL since Wilson was senior class president at the Collegiate School, a prep high school in Richmond, Va.
“It was a 2-minute drive, kind of a scramble-to-the-right kind of play,” Marshall said, reciting the intricate details because he’s thought about the play for, oh, 11 years. “Caught it, took it for 30 yards (and) got us into field-goal range. And as I was getting tackled, a linebacker fell on my right foot.
“Fast-forward to the New York Jets in 2015—playing against Oakland again, in Oakland. Caught this corner ball from Geno Smith on the sideline. A pretty ball. And the cornerback just landed on my ankle. Toe straight up.
“It was one of those things where I was going to wait until I retired and get done, but when I snapped my ankle last year (snapped the deltoid ligament in it, to be exact), I was like, ‘Hey, I got a lot of time,’ right? It was October. So that’s when I went ahead and got it done.”
So, wait, Marshall hasn’t played injury-free since 2007?
“No one has,” he said, smiling.
“This is a 100-percent-injury-rate league, right? I mean, I think that’s what the greats are: guys who are able to sustain for a long time. You’ve got to be able to play with some things. There’s a lot of guys that are making Pro Bowls and All-Pro years at 80 percent.
“You’ve just got to find a way. Got to find a way.”
Marshall said it took about four months for him to find a way to be able to run again, after his toe and ankle surgeries this past October. It took until after the Giants waived him in April for him to be fully able to run pain free. That happened two weeks before the Seahawks tried him out in May.
“The day I got cut I was begging the Giants like, ‘Just get me to the minicamp (in June) to show you guys,’” Marshall said. “When (Seattle’s) minicamp started (in mid-June), that was the first day I ran pain-free from my toe.”
The Seahawks have already gotten more than they bargained for with Marshall.
And vice versa.
Marshall has impressed Wilson, Schottenheimer and head coach Pete Carroll with all the suggestions and coaching points he brings up in meetings and film study. The Seahawks have incorporated some of Marshall’s ideas into an offense Schottenheimer estimates is about 30 percent new over his predecessor Darrell Bevell’s system. That’s the one Wilson ran for the first six years of his career.
Marshall raves about Schottenheimer, the former play caller with the Jets and Rams that Seattle hired in January to replace Bevell. The Seahawks fired Bevell after seven seasons running the offense, including 2017 that ended with the team out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“I didn’t have much experience with Coach Schottenheimer,” Marshall said. “I’ve been around a lot, played with a lot of quarterbacks, had a lot of OCs. So I knew it’d be special playing with 3 (Wilson).
“But Schotty? He’s special. Really talented. Smart.
“So I’m excited to see what he puts together for us week in, week out.”
Marshall has also been a mentor for younger Seahawks, particularly a rookie who doesn’t even play on his side of the ball.
Rookie cornerback Tre Flowers has been seeking out Marshall each day since May minicamps, to accelerate his learning the right-cornerback position for the Seahawks after playing safety at Oklahoma State.
“I thought I was a good competitor. But he brings something out of you,” Flowers said of Marshall. “Six-time Pro Bowler. You can’t fake that. At all.
“So anytime he’s going I’m going to call him out. I want to go against him.”
Marshall’s tutoring of Flowers on the finer points of route running and route detecting, on jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage, could pay off immediately this season.
Dontae Johnson, in line to start at right cornerback in Sunday’s opener, missed Thursday’s practice with a new hip injury. With veteran Byron Maxwell going on injured reserve last weekend, Flowers would start in Denver if Johnson cannot.
Denver remains a special place to Marshall. And not just because it’s where he began his starring career. The Broncos receiver from 2006-09 still goes back to host charity events benefiting mental-health causes in the Denver area.
As we profiled in The News Tribune in June, Marshall was diagnosed with was diagnosed in 2011 with borderline personality disorder. That illness is known for causing impulsive behavior, wild mood swings and problems in relationships.
Marshall’s non-profit organization, Project 375, seeks to change how America views and talks about mental health.
He calls Denver “a special place.”
“Yeah, I haven’t played in Denver since I’ve left (after the 2009 season),” Marshall said. “I’ve played against the Broncos, down in Miami. That was pretty cool. ...
“It’s fun going back, that’s where I started. And it’s a first-class organization. It’s a special place.”
Against all his doubters around the league, he’s setting out to make Seattle special for him this year, too.
For all he’s done, Marshall has never played in a postseason game. He says these young, remodeled Seahawks have playoff-level talent.
“We have the makeup. We have the leadership and the coaching staff and the locker room. And we have the work ethic,” he said. “But as you guys know, any given Sunday...”
His one this weekend will be special. For many reasons.