Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden defended wide receiver Antonio Brown to reporters on Saturday night, dismissing criticisms of Browns' injured feet and insistence on using his old helmet.
Speaking after opening the preseason with a 14-3 home win over the Los Angeles Rams, Gruden said the team understands why Brown wants to stick with his old helmet, a model that has been discontinued and is no longer approved by the league.
"He has a strong feeling about what he's worn on his head, and we're supporting him," Gruden said. "We understand the league's position as well, so we're in a tough spot, and we hope Antonio is here soon because he's exciting to be around. I'm excited. I've got some plays for him. I hope we can start calling them."
ESPN reported Friday that Brown has threatened to retire if not allowed to use his old helmet, as he believes newer models interfere with his vision. The report also said the helmet issue was the primary reason Brown has been absent from training camp in Napa, Calif., rather than frostbite-type symptoms on his feet reportedly caused by a cryotherapy mishap.
NFL Network reported Friday that things have been anything but peaceful between Brown and the Raiders, who acquired the wide receiver via trade from the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason. Among other issues, Brown has been chronically late, distracted by technology during meetings and does not communicate with team officials and coaches, per the report.
Gruden shook off those reports Saturday and again defended his wideout.
"I support this guy," Gruden said of Brown. "I think that's what needs to be said. I don't know what anybody's writing or what anybody thinks, but this foot injury wasn't his fault. This was a total accident. It really wasn't his fault, and it's a serious injury.
"I know that some people are [joking about] it, but it's really not a laughing matter. The guy is hurt, he didn't do anything wrong, and the helmet thing is a personal matter to him."
Brown has practiced just twice since training camp began, and not since the end of July.
As for the helmet dispute, Brown had a conference call with an independent arbitrator on Friday after filing a grievance against the league. ESPN reports no ruling has been issued, though one could come soon.
Gruden sounded confident that Brown will be on the field with the Raiders this season, regardless of the outcome with the helmet.
"I've got a feeling he would play with no helmet -- that's how much he loves to play," Gruden said. "But I'm not going to put words in anybody's mouth. We're going to support him, and whatever his decision is, we'll stand by it. But we're confident that he's going to be a huge factor for the Raiders for years to come."
--Field Level Media