Brandon Marshall's spectacular start to his second NFL season is all the more impressive considering his tragic and tumultuous offseason.
The Denver Broncos receiver was with Darrent Williams in the moments before the cornerback was gunned down on New Year's Day in downtown Denver, and two months later Marshall played in Damien Nash's charity basketball game in St. Louis before the backup running back dropped dead after leaving the gym.
"When you have a relationship with someone and they're here today and gone tomorrow, it definitely affects you," said Marshall, who until this week sported a bald head save for the Nos. 27 and 29 shaved across the back of his crown. "I'll never forget them, whether they're in my mind or my heart, they'll never be forgotten."
Marshall also found himself in the news for a domestic dispute with his girlfriend and underwent anger management counseling to have a false imprisonment charge dismissed.
Then, he pulled a quadriceps muscle at a minicamp that sidelined him for almost all of training camp, threatening to rob him of the starting split end job he was slated for following Rod Smith's hip surgery.
Combined with an injury-riddled rookie season, there were growing concerns about whether the fourth-round draft pick from Central Florida would ever live up to the promise that had earned him the nickname "Baby T.O." for his similar build and moves that reminded so many of Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens.
A flustered coach Mike Shanahan finally nudged him back onto the field on Aug. 10 against his wishes. Marshall admitted he was scared to test out his quad, but he quickly overcame the obstacles and caught up.
Now, he has 17 catches so far for a team-best 267 yards and needs just three catches and 42 yards Sunday at Indianapolis to equal his output from his entire rookie season.
"Brandon is as good as he wants to be," Shanahan said. "How many times do you find a guy who is 6-5, 230 pounds that can run under a 4.5 40 (yard dash) with great hands and is very intelligent? He's an excellent blocker. He's very physical. He makes big-time catches and I think he's just going to keep on getting better and better."
Marshall's emergence gives the Broncos another dimension on their retooled offense.
"Any time he's got the ball in his hands, he can break tackles and go the distance," Shanahan said.
Last week against Jacksonville, Marshall set career highs for catches (seven) and yards (133). On one drive, he caught three passes for 91 yards.
"First day I got here I saw him and I knew he had that kind of potential," said wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who joined the Broncos this offseason after spending four years in Indianapolis. "He's playing awesome football right now. Once he catches the ball he's been unbelievable. I don't know who I'd compare the guy to. In a few years, people are going to be comparing guys to him."
Marshall's size and strength are best displayed on the yards he gains after the catch, such as his 30-yard grab on Sunday when he grabbed a quick slant over the middle and put some jaw-dropping jukes on four defenders on his way to the 1.
"That's all from running back. All my life I was a running back from 6 years old on through high school," Marshall said. "I've got film of me making moves from way back. I used to cut across the field every game."
In the opener, he harkened to his college days as a defensive back when he put a blindside block on Buffalo's unsuspecting linebacker Mario Haggan to spring Javon Walker on a big gain.
"Whatever situation I'm in, I've got to go back to being aggressive or being smooth out there," Marshall said.
With Marshall's emergence, defenses won't be as eager to double-team Walker, who has two 100-yard games so far.
"We hope if they roll one way, the other guy gets open and if they play two-deep, we should be able to run because of our guys up front and Travis Henry," offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said.
It might not be long before the tables are turned and Walker can capitalize on the attention shown Marshall.
"He's a stud," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "He's going to get touches. And the better he gets, the more attention he's going to get and that's going to ease things up on Javon's side. So, it's working out for both of them right now."