CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Kareem Brown jumped out of the car he was in and saw the vehicle his friend had been driving wrapped around a tree, a mangled mess of metal and glass.
"I knew he was dead," the New York Jets tight end recalled Tuesday.
Brown, a converted defensive lineman trying to make the team at a new position, was at a club in his hometown of Miami on July 24 when his childhood friend, Jeffrey Nelson, stopped by.
"When he got there, I was on my way out," Brown recalled. "So he was like, 'OK, I might as well go home, too.' "
It was about 3:30 a.m. ET when the former high school football and basketball teammates left the club. It was also the last time they would speak.
Close to his home in Miami Gardens, Nelson lost control of his car, which went up onto a median and slammed into a tree. The 24-year-old Nelson died at the scene.
And, Brown saw it all unfold from the car he was riding in just a few yards away.
"The way the car was wrapped around the tree, no one could survive that," Brown said. "I witnessed the whole thing with my own two eyes. And I was the one that had to call his mother and his girlfriend and let them know, so that's something that's going to stick with me forever. It just hurts."
Brown said he didn't believe his friend wasn't drinking that night, but isn't sure what caused the accident.
"He was in the car by himself, so we don't know what happened," Brown said. "I don't know if he was texting -- I don't know. No one knows. It's just one of those freak things where he lost control of his car. He lived right around the corner. That's another crazy thing about it."
Brown reported to SUNY Cortland with the rest of his teammates last Thursday with a heavy heart.
"I came up because I wanted to get away," Brown said. "There were a lot of things going on in Miami and I just wanted my head to be clear. So I came up to be with the team and they supported me."
He left last Friday afternoon so he could attend Nelson's funeral service in Miami on Saturday, but got right back on a plane when it was over and was on the practice field Sunday.
"We left it up to him," coach Rex Ryan said. "You just take as much time as you need and he wanted to come back. He's having to deal with it."
Brown has spoken regularly with Dr. Sara Hickman, the team psychologist, about what he witnessed that night.
"You try to think of it in a positive light, like what would he have wanted me to do?" Brown said. "I'm sure he would've wanted me to be here busting my butt and getting the job done. So I try to look at everything like that and I know he's watching over me and his family and his child."
Brown has gotten back to football and is focused on winning a job as a backup tight end behind starter Dustin Keller. He's competing with free agents Jack Simmons, J'Nathan Bullock and recently signed Kevin Brock.
"Nobody has really stepped up and taken the job," Ryan said. "He's coming on, and you expect it. This is a brand-new position for him, but he flashes at times."
Brown is still learning about playing tight end after being a defensive lineman at the University of Miami and in his first two NFL seasons with New England and New York. He was waived by the Patriots after being inactive the first 11 games in 2007, and was claimed by the Jets a day later. Brown was inactive for four games before making his NFL debut on special teams in the season finale.
He was inactive for seven games last season before being waived and re-signed by the Jets and placed on the practice squad.
Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer decided to try him out at tight end, and Brown has made a remarkable physical change. When he was drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, Brown weighed 322 pounds. He's now listed at 260, a loss of 62 pounds.
"I feel great, better than ever," he said. "Tight end is coming along good. It's a process, just learning the whole offensive scheme. It's the little things on offense that are most important because you could learn all the playbook, but you've got to learn little things from the vets. They teach you little tricks of the trade and stuff that takes you that extra mile."
He has made a few catches this summer, and is working on his blocking skills -- something the Jets need from their tight ends after allowing the versatile Chris Baker to become a free agent in the offseason.
"I'm doing pretty good," Brown said. "Hopefully in the preseason, I'll do even better and we'll take it from there."