A massive defensive tackle who saw time on the field as a true freshman for the Tigers a year ago, Brown’s versatility allowed the coaches to move him out to defensive end following injuries to Byron Cowart and Paul James during the season.
Now trimmed down to 317 pounds on his six-foot, five-inch frame, Brown is ready to take the next step in his development this spring and Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said that could mean him lining up at different spots for the Tigers.
“He can play the six-technique, he can play the three-technique, he can play the nose,” Steele said of the talented sophomore. “He could probably play right guard, right tackle--even center if he could snap it.”
That kind of talk has been with Brown since his days at Lanier High in Buford, Ga. A five-star prospect and one of the top prospects in the country, Brown’s ability to play defensive tackle was impressive, but just as impressive were his feats catching passes or dunking the ball in basketball.
Having a massive defensive lineman capable of playing defensive tackle, nose tackle and defensive end and doing it well is a luxury, something Steele said changes how you can play and how opponents have to work against you.
When you add in Brown’s work ethic, intelligence on the field and his desire to get better, Steele said he could be the total package for the Tigers if he continues to improve.
“It’s a key piece, because he’s a very, very talented man,” Steele said. “He’s very athletic, he’s smart, he’s got a tremendous amount of pride and work ethic. When you can command double teams inside, when you can play zero or head-up or two-gap guys, that rare/ That’s talked about often, but there’s rare people that can do that every day.
“But the other thing that is kind of fun to watch is you put him at six-technique and he lines up on a tight end, and you see a little different expression. ‘Whoa.’ You’ve been putting 4 (Jeff Holland) and 55 (Carl Lawson) here, and now you’re putting both of them here at the same time. He’s a big man.”
Brown's size and athleticism could make this defensive front a team strength if things fall into place for the Tigers. Veteran linebacker DeShaun Davis contends that that big No. 5 is someone who can be a game-changer for the Tigers.
“Derrick is a big, physical guy," Davis said. "He’s still getting his feet wet being with the ones and working with the ones, but when you’re with the starting group a lot is expected of you. A lot is expected of you on the defensive side of the ball anyway, but when you’re with the ones you really have to be on your 'A' game.
“When you see him you think he’s about 290, but he’s not moving. He makes my job easier. Every time you see me get a tackle you’re going to see me pat him and Dontavius (Russell) and all of them because they make our job a lot easier.”