Arizona Cardinals featuring ‘Smoke’ and ‘Fire’ with John Brown and J.J. Nelson

By Jesse Reed
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians can’t hide his excitement talking about his “Smoke” and “Fire” combination in receivers John Brown and J.J. Nelson.

Brown earned the nickname “Smoke” last season as a rookie for his ability to smoke defensive backs deep down the field. He now has a compatriot in rookie Nelson, who already has his teammates calling him “Fire” for the same reason, as Bob McManaman of azcentral.com reported.

Arians has long been a proponent of pushing the ball downfield in the passing game, and he now has the players to make the most out of his desired approach. Speaking with reporters at Cardinals camp on Wednesday afternoon, he gushed about his young receivers.

Wherever you see Smoke, you see Fire,” coach Bruce Arians said. “That’s his nickname now. He’s always in Smoke’s hip picket, following him around, and that’s a good thing. Smoke’s been through it and he knows how to help him (Nelson) get to where Smoke is now and faster than Smoke got there last year.”

Brown emerged on the scene last season in his rookie campaign as a dangerous playmaker. He caught 48 balls for 696 yards (14.5 yards per catch) and five touchdowns. He is expected to take on even more responsibility this season, especially now that Michael Floyd is out for six weeks or longer recovering from his hand injury.

And with Nelson, a fifth-round pick this spring, sliding in to occupy the part Brown played last year, the Cardinals now feature speed to rival the Indianapolis Colts’ T.Y. Hilton and Phillip Dorsett.

Nelson didn’t catch on quickly during OTAs and mini-camp, but he has emerged during camp. He added five or six pounds after changing his eating habits and has caught the eye of quarterback Carson Palmer.

“J.J. looks like a different person,” Palmer said, “In OTAs and minicamp, he was a typical rookie…Now he’s telling himself he’s the best receiver on the team. He’s playing like his 40 time. He’s catching everything. He’s making the routine catch, which he wasn’t before, but he’s also making the spectacular catch, which he wasn’t doing before.”

This should scare the bejesus out of opposing defensive coordinators who have Arizona on the schedule this year.

“Smoke” and “Fire” could take on an even greater role than perhaps Arians imagined before the start of camp, too. The straight-talking head coach hasn’t been pleased at all with his running backs, which thwarts is plans to feature more of a power-running game this season. If the Cardinals struggle to run the ball in 2015, as they did last year, then you can bet the two young receivers will become featured pieces in a high-flying passing attack.