Jonathan Brown Improving Rapidly For Illini

The Fighting Illini football team always uses a number of freshmen, as long as they develop rapidly and show maturity on the field. If they are ready and can contribute, they play. Among those who have seen time this fall include Jonathan Brown, the Memphis linebacker. He has the natural instincts to be a good one.

Jonathan Brown has seen second team reps at inside linebacker already this fall despite being a true freshman. Illinois head coach Ron Zook has been impressed with him.

"Jonathan Brown has done a great job and is really coming on. He runs a little better than I thought, and I thought he ran pretty well. He's got a lot more common football sense. In the Oklahoma Drill he had great power and leverage. You either have it or you don't. That's hard to coach."

Brown may have come from the South, but he likes his new home.

"Things are going real good. I've adjusted to Champaign. Champaign is a beautiful city. I'm enjoying myself right now."

Most young players discuss the difficulty adjusting to the speed of the college game. Not so for the Christian Brothers High School graduate.

"Not really, just the speed of the practices. My first couple days I had trouble learning the defense, but I decided to commit to getting into the playbook and really learning the defense. It's coming along pretty good now."

Right now, Brown is listed as an inside linebacker. It is not a middle linebacker but a hybrid position combining traits of a middle backer and weakside backer. Ian Thomas has been showing him the ropes.

"I play behind Ian. In high school I played the MIKE, but my senior year we got a different defense. So I kind of played a hybrid type backer. So it's pretty similar. I enjoy playing linebacker, so any linebacker position is good for me. I think I can come out there and learn from Ian, which will help me get better at the position."

Actually, all the linebackers have been helpful. Besides Thomas, Martez Wilson and Evan Frierson have pointed him in the right direction.

"Really all of the guys have helped me. Ian might tell me something on the field. Tez (Wilson) might tell me something in film. Evan might tell me something with my steps. Really they all just bring a lot of wisdom having played before.

"Tez is a great leader. He helps all the young guys out. He knows the defense inside and out." The 6'-1", 235 pounder arrived on campus in June and became immersed immediately in weight training under the tutelage of Strength and Conditioning Coach Lou Hernandez. He adapted quickly.

"It's always good to put time in to get better during the summer because Lou got us right in the weight room. It gives us time for our bodies to build up to endure all the pounding in the Big Ten."

Summer gave Brown time to get acquainted with his teammates, especially other entering freshmen. He sees good things down the road.

"We had a great summer. Our freshman class is really good. We have a great freshman class, a great team. Everybody's making gains in the weight room. I'm excited."

Dan Disch coaches inside linebackers, and he has a willing pupil in the Memphis freshman.

"Coach Disch is a great guy, a funny guy. In the meeting rooms we're always cracking up. I've learned a lot from Coach Disch. I like Coach."

Illini defensive coaches are perfectionists and raise their voices on the practice field frequently. But Brown understands they are just trying to help him become a better player.

"When I make mistakes it's always constructive criticism, so when those guys get on me I always take it and build on it."

Brown has an air of confidence that makes him capable of playing as a freshman. He isn't expecting a starting role, at least not this year, but he senses good things are ahead for himself and the team.

"We have a good nucleus at linebacker, so I'm not too worried about being one of the top guys right now. I'm ready to win, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help the team out."


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