Jets LT Duane Brown on returning after shoulder surgery: ‘It’s been a long process, a long year’

Imagine having to deal with an injured shoulder for an entire NFL season.

That’s precisely what Jets left tackle Duane Brown endured all of last year.

Following offseason surgery, Brown was finally cleared to practice with the rest of the Jets players on Wednesday. During his first day of practice, Brown continued doing individual work on the side with trainers. On Thursday, Brown warmed up with the rest of the team as he continued his journey back from surgery.

Brown won’t play in Saturday’s preseason finale against the Giants as he continues to get ramped up for the regular season.

“It’s been a long process, a long year,” Brown said. “Just watching everything, seeing everything, the changes of the team, the energy around.

“To be out there it means everything to me. Never had a shoulder surgery, didn’t know what that entailed. Not sleeping great, just trusting the process day in and day out.”

The Jets signed Brown to a two-year, $22 million contract last August after Mekhi Becton’s season-ending knee injury during training camp. However, Brown injured his shoulder before the start of the regular season and missed the first four games of 2022.

Brown returned and played 12 games for the Jets, but his shoulder was never close to 100%. He played the entire year with one arm before being shut down for the Jets season finale against the Dolphins.

His act of courage wasn’t lost on the Jets as they created a Selfless Warrior Award in Brown’s honor, which is an award (voted on by the coaches) designated to the player who gives the most of himself for the team.

“It was tough,” Brown said. “The main thing is I have a certain level of play that I’m accustomed to playing at. Being out there basically with one arm, it is kind of hard to get that accomplished like you want to.

“I just want to win. Being that we had a lot of promise and a lot of steam, it kind of stalled. It was a lot, but it was a great learning experience. I’m always appreciative of the journey and I’m grateful for it.

“This year, we have a lot of energy, a lot of promise going into the season and it’s good to be a part of it.”

The excitement Brown is talking about is the Jets’ high expectations after acquiring quarterback Aaron Rodgers during the offseason. Following a season in which the Jets lost six straight games to end the year with a 7-10 mark, some pundits believe the Jets are Super Bowl contenders in the AFC, along with the Chiefs and Bengals.

However, the Jets offensive line has faced heavy scrutiny throughout training camp. They’ve allowed tons of pressure while Rodgers and backups Zach Wilson and Tim Boyle were under center. During their joint practices against the Panthers and the Buccaneers, the Jets offensive linemen were often beat at the point of attack as that would throw off Rodgers’ rhythm inside the pocket.

Part of that was because the Jets rotated Max Mitchell and Billy Turner from left to right tackle before Becton became the starting right tackle earlier this week. Another reason for the inconsistent play from the offensive line was due to Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laken Tomlinson both missing time during camp with injuries.

With Vera-Tucker and Tomlinson both back practicing and Brown returning, the Jets finally have their starting offensive line on the field, along with Connor McGovern at center and Becton at right tackle. That’s key because 11 different offensive linemen started games for the Jets during the 2022 campaign.

With more than two weeks before the season opener against the Bills on Sept. 11, the offensive line doesn’t have much time to prepare and gain chemistry with one another. But Vera-Tucker believes the unit will be fine with a bit of practice.

“I think it’s reps in practice, on top of that, mental reps as well and walkthroughs and meetings,” Vera-Tucker said about gaining chemistry on the offensive line. “I feel like we definitely know how to do that.

“It is just getting those mental reps in, so basically been doing that. Any other guy like Duane and Laken, two vets on that side, they’ve played the game fore a long time, so it shouldn’t be too hard for them. Everyone else,  it is just mental and physical reps.”

They’re not many 38-year-old offensive linemen in the league these days, but Brown will be one of them. He turns 38 on Aug. 30, ahead of his 17th season in the league.

Brown has accomplished a lot during his time in the league. He’s been an All-Pro three times and a five-time Pro Bowl selection. But he remains without a Super Bowl championship.

Brown committed to returning to the Jets even before Rodgers was acquired. Retirement wasn’t much of a question as Brown is motivated to keep playing as long as possible.

“Obviously, you wake up, you feel 215 games,” Brown said. “But if I’m out there, I feel good.

“The day I don’t feel like I can go out there and compete at a high level, I won’t be out there. I feel good.”