GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Carson Palmer pulled receiver JJ Nelson to the side after the first couple of days of the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback school before training camp and told the rookie he looked like a different player.
Those few words helped changed Nelson's image of himself, but the quarterback isn't the only one in Nelson’s ear.
The rookie receiver is rooming with John Brown, who, a year ago, was in the same position as Nelson -- a speedy, undersized receiver who Palmer saw potential in.
"Smoke's like my brother," said Nelson, who said he was given the nickname "Smoke" by cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross to complement Brown's nickname of Smokey. "He talks to me every day -- 'Keep doing what you're doing.'
"I'm pretty much looking up to him. I'm picking his head, see how he takes it day-by-day, see how he eats, take care of his body. See how he learn the playbook so I can get to that level."
There might not be a better role model for Nelson. A lot of who Brown has developed into as a receiver was molded by Palmer, who took Brown under his wing last offseason. While Nelson is absorbing everything Brown says and does, there's nothing better for a receiver than to hear the quarterback offer a compliment or two.
After their conversation, Nelson's confidence spiked.
"It helped me a lot coming from a guy like Carson -- the quarterback," Nelson said. "It helped my confidence a lot. Just staying consistent and coming out and compete each and every day."
After a spring during which Nelson wasn't making routine or spectacular catches, he's hauled in nearly everything thrown his way during training camp. Even though Palmer saw Nelson progress after almost seven weeks away, he wasn't totally sold.
Palmer wanted to know if Nelson, who was drafted by Arizona in the fifth round, could keep it up.
“The question is now, as the vets get there, can you sustain what you've put on film? Can you be the same guy you were with the rookies? And then, when we put pads on, can you be the same guy once pads are on?" Palmer asked Nelson.
"That's a challenge. That's a big challenge. He has stepped right up to it and done a great job so far."
Nelson was quiet during the conversation, answering Palmer with "Oh, OK" and "Yeah."
"He doesn’t say much," Palmer said. "That’s what you expect from a later-round pick rookie that's trying to kind of find his way."
Coming off an underwhelming OTAs and minicamp, Nelson felt he could've done better. He spent his short offseason back in Midfield, Alabama, working on his stance, his starts, and coming out of his breaks earlier.
It's paid off. He’s been impressive during training camp, bringing down catches that would normally be overthrown. Even veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald noticed, also calling Nelson a "completely different guy."
"In OTAs and minicamp, he was a typical rookie," Palmer said. "I think a little bit nervous, trying to find out where he fits in, does he belong -- that kind of negative self-talk.
"Now, he’s telling himself he's the best receiver on the team and he's playing like his 40 time. He's catching everything."
But Nelson thinks he can get even better with a little more weight.
Nelson would like to add five to 10 pounds, he said, to help his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. As he tries to bulk up, coach Bruce Arians has one two words of advice for his newest speedster: "Stay fast."
"You got here at that weight," Arians said. "I'd like to put some weight on him, but stay fast."
Arians compared Nelson gaining weight to Olympic sprinters improving their upper-body mass. He pointed out they don’t "fool with their legs too much" but said the added strength up top helps them become more powerful.
It worked for Brown, who added 10 pounds in between his rookie and second seasons.
"It's helping me a lot," he said. "I feel more explosive. Now I'm able to fight pressure with pressure with guys like Patrick Peterson but it's still a lot of work I have to work on. I can feel the improvement."
That’s what Nelson is looking for.
"I think it'll help me a lot with me speed and quickness off the line," he said.
Palmer has seen young players like Nelson before, who come from small schools and hear all the negative remarks about them and their game leading up to the draft. But Palmer is starting to see Nelson forget about all of it.
"He may be real quiet and reserved but I think he's got a little swag to him and kind of realizing, 'Maybe I can play with these guys, maybe I'm not too small, maybe I’m not too skinny,'" Palmer said.
"When you're from a small school it's easy to maybe believe some of that stuff and I think he's realizing, 'A lot of people are wrong about me.'"