How 2019 breakout rookie A.J. Brown can avoid sophomore slump for Titans

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A.J. Brown had one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history last year. The Tennessee Titans' 2019 second-rounder led all rookie receivers with 1,051 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns, becoming the franchise's first rookie wideout to surpass 1,000 receiving yards since Ernest Givens did it for the Houston Oilers in 1986.

Brown will have to keep honing his craft to avoid a second-year letdown because opposing defenses will have more film to study as they prepare to stop him this year.

Last year's accomplishments don't mean much to Brown. During the locker room clean-out last season, he acknowledged he had a solid season but said he fell short of his personal goals -- he wanted to finish with 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns.

His confidence is through the roof as he prepares for his second season, yet he is quick to point out that there is still a lot for him to learn.

"I think the sky is the limit for me, to be honest," Brown said. "I’m a great learner and I’m going to keep learning each and every day. Definitely a lot of things I can clean up.

"Year 1, I was just trying to play fast and not think about it too much, but Year 2 I can really just key in and focus on what I really need to focus on and learn a lot more stuff in regards to coverages and everything else."

What are the key things for Brown to work on in Year 2?

Maximizing every opportunity

With the Titans using a run-oriented offense, Brown ranked just 59th in targets (84) last season. But when he had opportunities, he made things happen. Brown had five 100-yard receiving games, which was the second most (Odell Beckham Jr., seven in 2014) for a rookie in the Super Bowl era.

Every time Brown touched the football, he was a big-play threat. His average of 20.2 yards per reception trailed only Los Angeles Chargers receiver Mike Williams at 20.4. Additionally, Brown averaged 8.8 yards after the catch.

Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith will likely keep the same run-first philosophy this season, so Brown will be fortunate if he sees more than 100 targets. Brown said he is catching 1,000 balls a day during workouts with a Jugs machine, tennis balls and reserve quarterback Logan Woodside in Nashville -- which happen two to three times per week.

While Brown will need to make the most of every touch, he has to be careful not to force plays or try to do too much, which could lead to concentration drops. He just has to make the plays when they come his way.

It's the quality-over-quantity approach.

Create more separation at the top of the route

Titans coach Mike Vrabel pointed to separation at the top of the route as something Brown needs to improve upon. Getting better in this area was a goal last season. Brown worked extensively with wide receivers coach Rob Moore on subtle things that would help him get open.

Vrabel's message has already resonated.

"I know I need to work on things to get better," Brown said. "That goes into the details and with my steps at the top of my route. [Vrabel] is right on."

Brown said he watches Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones for subtleties to emulate. Jones is exceptional at using his size (6-foot-3) to create separation at the top of the route. He is able to subtly push off of cornerbacks to get open without drawing pass-interference calls. Those are two things Brown can incorporate into his game.

Being more explosive out of his breaks is another area Brown can work on. At 6-foot, 226 pounds, Brown has a low center of gravity that should help him drop his hips and change directions without losing too much speed.

Taking on the league's best

Brown's success last season will likely mean he'll draw the top cover cornerbacks from opposing defenses every week. Consistently lining up against the league's best cover guys is no easy task. Last season, Brown faced three of the best in Jalen Ramsey (then of the Jacksonville Jaguars), the Chargers' Casey Hayward Jr. and the New Orleans SaintsMarshon Lattimore.

Here's how Brown fared:

vs. Ramsey: 4 targets, 1 reception, 4 yards

vs. Hayward: 8 targets, 6 receptions, 64 yards

vs. Lattimore: 2 targets, 1 reception, 34 yards

This season brings challenges from Jaire Alexander of the Green Bay Packers and Tre'Davious White of the Buffalo Bills, among others. Winning these head-to-head battles would show Brown is taking the next step.

Finding those subtle ways to get open will be even more critical in these matchups. Small tendencies that show up in extensive film study can make the difference. Most veteran players have an idea of how their opponents want to attack them.

For receivers, that can mean a cornerback's tendency to use a certain press technique at the line of scrimmage or a way he reacts to certain movements from a receiver during his route. In Brown's case, that difference will likely come by finding ways to separate from sticky coverage with crisp, explosive routes.

"The details are going to get me open," Brown said.