Antonio Brown says he's grateful to be back in football

TAMPA, Fla. -- Speaking to the media for the first time since signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, wide receiver Antonio Brown expressed gratitude Wednesday for the opportunity to rejoin a team after a year-and-a-half away from football.

"Being away from the game for a year-and-a-half, just to be able to be part of the process, to be out there with the guys today, was surreal, something I don't take for granted, something I have a great appreciation for, a better perspective about," Brown said.

Brown said that he's missed the allure of games and awards that come with being one of the top receivers in the NFL, but he tried to use his time away productively.

"I took a lot of time off from the game to reevaluate myself, to look within, to get a better perspective of myself, of working on myself within and without," said Brown, who was a four-time first-team All-Pro with Pittsburgh.

The Bucs are Brown's fourth team in 20 months. He was just reinstated by the league after an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Brown, 32, is currently on probation for felony burglary with battery charges stemming from an altercation with the delivery driver of a moving company. He has twice been accused of sexual misconduct in the past year and faces a civil lawsuit from one of the accusers that is scheduled to go to trial Dec. 14-18.

Brown also accumulated over $54,000 in fines from his time with the Raiders last year for missed practices and walk-throughs.

"I've just been spending a lot of time with family, working on myself within and just staying resilient, keeping the mind on a mission -- that's being a football player and doing all the things that come with that, even when the times got hard, keeping myself in shape, keeping myself motivated from within, not listening to the naysayers, not giving [in to] doubt or worries about whether I'd be able to return," Brown said. "I had good trainers. I had good people around me in my corner that kept me encouraged, that kept me motivated, and I just believed. I knew one day I'd get a chance to be back in this position, and I just tried to check every box to make sure when I was about to get back, I was ready to go."

When asked what he would say to those who question his being able to return to the NFL and those who don't believe he deserves a second chance, Brown said, "Hopefully I can change their perspective. Being here, around great people in a great organization, hopefully I can win them over in my actions in how I move forward and how I handle my business."

Brown, who kept in shape by working out at public parks at his home in South Florida, took the practice field with his new Bucs teammates for the first time Wednesday. While he didn't participate in punt or kick returns during the portion of the walk-through that was open to the media, he was on the sideline with teammates stretching. He had a big smile on his face throughout the workout. Brown looked focused but was also engaged with teammates and members of the coaching staff, spending a lot of time with running back LeSean McCoy, while also talking to running backs coach Todd McNair and wide receivers coach Kevin Garver.

"He was going full speed. Everyone else was walking, but he was going full speed," coach Bruce Arians said. "That's him anyway. But it was good. Guys were helping him. He's got a really good handle on what we're trying to get done formationally, so ... it was great interaction with all the guys. It was a good start to the week."

Brown is expected to make his Buccaneers debut this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints in a rematch that could decide the NFC South. The Bucs are working to get him up to speed as quickly as possible. Arians said he could play anywhere from 10 to 35 snaps. Some of that could be influenced by Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin's availability after surgery to repair a broken finger, something Arians said the team won't know until Friday, when Godwin will attempt to catch passes.

Brown played 24 snaps in his debut with the New England Patriots in September of last year. He was targeted eight times for four catches in that game, including a 20-yard touchdown, which garnered a big hug from quarterback Tom Brady. Brady not only advocated for Brown's signing with the Bucs but opened his home to Brown to help him acclimate, both in New England and Tampa Bay. Brown said the two bonded over their underdog journeys getting to the NFL.

"Tom is my boy. One of the greatest leaders to be around," Brown said. "He's encouraging, always inspiring. He brings out the best in the people around him. He wants the best for everyone around him.

"I mean, he's the greatest quarterback of all time. Nothing he's done in the past matters. He's always getting better, day in and day out. I just learn a lot from him. How he trains, how he takes care of himself professionally, his discipline, his work ethic, his approach -- he's been a great guy in my corner and one of my close friends."

Aside from Brady, Brown now has motivational speaker and self-help guru Tony Robbins in his corner. Brady introduced Brown to Robbins, and the two began talking regularly a few months ago to help Brown get his life back on track.

"He's been a great asset for me," Brown said of Robbins. "We're working on myself within, locking some positive stuff in my spirit, just being a better person. A lot of time sitting with him, developing some positive things within, changing my outlook on some things, battling and getting away from anger, just being able to stay positive and see the positives in things, not letting my emotion or frustration ruin my outlook on what's in front of me."

Is he a different person after all this time away?

"I just feel like I'm a better person," Brown said. "I wouldn't say I'm a different person. But I'm a better person. Learning a lot about myself, working on myself for a year-and-a-half, so I think I'm a better person."