Pharaoh Brown thinks as big as his tall stature, eyeing a potential breakthrough season to surpass or equal his large frame.
Toward that goal, the Texans' physically gifted has gotten into dramatically better shape.
Brown played last season at 280 pounds, but has gotten down to a lean 262 pounds and a much lower body-fat percentage through a diligent exercise regimen that includes Pilates, hot yoga and weightlifting and a much stricter diet.
The changes have paid dividends already. Brown has caught several touchdown passes since the start of training camp and has been moving much faster. The 6-foot-6 former Pac-12 standout indicated his body-fat percentage is down to 14.9 percent from 18 percent last season. His goal for the first game of the season: 14.1 percent and lower during the season.
"I mean, I changed everything," Brown said Sunday. "After the season, it was just a full change. I always did like Pilates and stuff like that, but I mean, I was a fat guy last year. One of the lineman just was like, ‘I'm proud of you, man. You were a big o-line tight end last year and now you're out there catching balls.’
“My diet was healthy, but it was the small stuff. I eat healthy, but I bathe all my meat with Sweet Baby Ray's (barbecue sauce), you know what I mean. So, it was all the sugar and high fructose corn syrup you don't really notice. You're like, oh, I'm eating healthy but I've got all these sauces and stuff. That really played a part, the small details that really set it apart.”
How did he lose the weight? Brown followed the advice of director of team wellness Ladd Harris, the team nutritionist about putting cleaner fuel in his body. Brown has the occasional cheat meal, but he mostly eats healthy.
"I was getting on the scale and the weight wasn't changing," Brown said. "Then I came here, and it really was just like trust the process. I really leaned on our people here, Ladd and everybody, and I just kept doing what they were saying and he just kept saying, don't worry about it, don't worry about it. It was kind of like when I got back, it just happened. I just credit the process and the support of the people here.”
Why make all the changes and increase his dedication? Pride, and financial goals.
Signed to a one-year, $3 million fully guaranteed contract, Brown's deal includes a $1 million signing bonus, with a $2 million guaranteed salary, $500,000 in per game active roster bonuses, playtime incentive to reach up to $4 million.
Brown wants to earn a big contract, something like Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku's four-year, $56.75 million contract extension. That would require Brown piling up huge numbers after catching just 23 passes for 171 yards on 39 targets last season, but he's set his ambitions on doing much better. That's what Brown told a teammate.
"I told him, ‘Yeah, I got a new financial advisor and they told me the blocking tight end gets the minimum,'" Brown said. "I'm trying to get a David Njoku deal after this year, so we have to catch a lot more balls. A lot of that went into it and now I'm right where I want to be.
“I want to go out there and be me. I don't have any certain expectations. My expectations are to win a lot of games and get wealthy doing it. So I want to win a lot of meaningful games and I want to get wealthy. I want to have generational wealth. Everything falls right into those two categories for me.”
A former undrafted free agent from Oregon who overcame a gruesome leg injury in college that nearly cost him his leg, Brown has 39 career receptions for 361 yards and two touchdowns. The worst part about his season: leading the Texans in penalties last year.
He was highly disappointed with how he performed for a 4-13 squad last year.
“I learned a lot last season," Brown said. "What I took from it was just my mental, so after the season, I did a lot of stuff, just getting my mind right, getting my body right, just getting everything right. Last year, was not one of my best years. I really just came out just a whole totally different player. I think it was a learning lesson, and you kind of go through that, everything. You have some kind of setbacks and it's kind of helped propel me to where I'm at now.
“It's a mental thing: me versus me. I'm definitely way faster. I joke with the tight ends because I’ve got the fastest time right now in camp. I'm waiting for them to beat it but they are not going to beat it yet because everybody's legs are heavy right now."
Brown could emerge as a pivotal player for the Texans. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton loves to utilize tight ends. Brown has a lot of chemistry with quarterback Davis Mills. He's been a constant presence in red-zone drills. The only blocking tight end who comes close to getting as much push as Brown is Antony Auclair, who's sidelined with a right knee injury.
Brown has already earned a starting job.
“Well, just I'm talking about just Pharaoh in general, he's our starting tight end, and he's a Y tight end," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "He can block, big body. You see him make catches every day. We'll have a big role for him.”
Smith had four catches for 67 yards in the first game of the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he didn't build on the momentum gained in the first game.
Watching himself, Brown was disappointed.
“Last year, just watching myself on film, I was moving like molasses," Brown said. "I wasn't athletic. I wasn't explosive. Right now, I'm 262 and feel good, feeling fast. Like I said, it was all part of the plan. At this level when you’re blocking, you get minimum deals, you know what I mean, blockers get minimum deals in this league.
"I'm trying to win a lot of games and get rich -- get wealthy, not rich, get wealthy doing this. You have to catch the ball to get wealthy. The blocking is still in my toolbox and that's what sets me apart because I can block, I can still line up in the backfield and I also can split out and take advantage of corners. I'm running all kind of routes. My route tree has grown."
Playing for Hamilton, the replacement for former offensive coordinator Tim Kelly could pay off for Brown and the entire offense. They like what he has planned as far as game strategies and play-calling.
"Pep is a smart guy," Brown said. "He puts us in a lot of good situations and it's just building on top of that. Yesterday in the red zone, I caught the fade just one-on-one with a small corner. Today, we came back and hit him with a slant. So now that road is growing, being able to flex out and take advantage of little, small DBs.”
A year after a losing season under David Culley, the Texans promoted Smith. He's a former NFL Coach of the Year and a Super Bowl coach with the Chicago Bears.
“I mean, it's a great vibe," Brown said. "The vibe's definitely different from last year. Everybody's buying in. Lovie commands a certain respect, a certain discipline. You know, he's kind of cool, laid-back but he's kind of like your father, like you know, you aren’t going to really try him, you know what I mean. Even though he's calm and cool, it's that respect factor that he has.”
Brown has a lot of support at home to lean on. His wife, Celeste, and two young sons are fixtures at practice in the family section. His mother visited practice Sunday. She even proudly filmed Brown's media session.
“My family is awesome," Brown said. "You kind of deal with so much outside of here that plays a part of you being on the field, and I mean, my wife was with me every step of the way, and going through the same things that I was doing to help me get to where I’m at in my mindset. So we kind of take a family approach to everything and they all do the same thing I do.
"My mom, she also went on like a retreat with me as well. She's over there video recording. So it helped her because she just moved to Houston and going through some stressful things and I mean, anything that I'm doing, I like to bring my family on to get the same experience because no matter what you do, everybody is going through some mental stress and it's really good to take self-care.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.