Brown a 'Better Person' Because of Draft Prep

Jonathan Brown did all he could do Thursday to improve his draft stock. Find out how he improved his results from the combine and also get the scoop on what he's learned about himself through the entire scouting process.

CHAMPAIGN - Jonathan Brown didn't have much time to prepare after a disappointing combine performance.

He didn't dwell, though. He went to work.

A little more than a week later, the former Illinois linebacker improved his 40-time and reps on the bench press.

For a player who's draft standing is in question, Thursday's performance at Illini Pro Day could make the difference.

"I did a lot of improving today, man, which is something I really wanted to do because my performance at the combine wasn't that good. I think I needed this day to get better. I think I did that."

The 6-foot, 234-pound Memphis native ran a 4.85 in the 40 and bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times. In Indianapolis, he ran a 5.03 and put up 16 reps.

His results on the national stage weren't ideal, but Brown said he learned from the experience. It took going through that to help prepare him for what was to come.

"It took a lot of pressure off me," he said. "Coming back here was actually fun. Being around the guys, seeing a lot of familiar faces and just being in your home facility, it was a lot more comfortable."

The hard part, it seems, is now over for Brown. He'll be real comfortable soon, as he's heading back to Memphis after the weekend to train and wait for the draft. A quick scan of the numerous draft projections online don't provide a consensus. Brown is listed anywhere from a possible mid to late round pick or could go un-drafted. He's not caught up in that, though.

"I don't think I'll be a first day guy," he said. "I'll have the luxury of just chilling with my family. I don't have the pressure of getting everybody invites to New York. It's a bonus."

Being with his family is the real bonus. Brown spent the last few months training in Atlanta after leading the Illini last season in tackles (119), tackles for loss (15) and quarterback sacks (5.0). Since finishing his collegiate career, Brown has undergone a physical and mental transformation.

A torn pectoral muscle near the end of his junior year left him unable to bench press, which set him back on those rep numbers. And there's no denying Brown as the team's leader in 2013, both from a productivity and vocal standpoint.

But that hadn't always been the case, with academics and attitude a question mark early on. His maturity level and off-the-field habits began changing before his senior campaign. His physical leap began in January when he teamed with renowned trainer Chip Smith, famous for his work with numerous NFL players like Brian Urlacher.

"We just started working, man," Browns said. "It (the bench press) improved a lot since the first day I started."

With the combine and Pro Day in mind, Brown knew the bench and the 40 could make or break him. So he started putting on weight. He did well in the Senior Bowl, making four tackles, but admitted he'd probably added too many pounds.

"I don't think it was the plan to gain that much but I knew I needed to gain some," he said. "I think going into the combine I put a little bit too much on, but we corrected it."

It had to be a tough spot to be in — a player in need of increasing strength for the bench while also gaining speed for the 40. Brown says he never got frustrated with the task.

"Not at all. Not at all," he said. "Of course everybody wants to be at the top, but from where I started to where I am now, I see steady progression. That's my biggest thing, for myself to get better each day I step on the field. I see that happening."

While prepping for the physical tests, Brown also went through the interview process. Coaches and team staffers put prospective players on the hot seat numerous times throughout the process. Everything is free game. Personal items, background, upbringing. Everything. Browns says the Senior Bowl was more detailed, had more one-on-one time than the combine offered.

The whole time, these people were trying to get to know Brown. But all the while, Brown was getting to know himself, too. For months, he trained for four or five hours a day. After that? He was alone in a new city. At his stops along the way, he answered questions for other people.

But he may have answered questions of his own, too.

"Hell yeah. Hell yeah," he said. "Just going through this whole process, just being out there by myself and getting away from what I was familiar with and going through adversity, it really showed me a lot about myself. It showed me a lot about myself as a player and as a man. Really had to fight through a lot of adversity these last couple weeks. I'm a better person for it."

Better person, better player and a good shot at the NFL. Everybody has told Brown to stay in shape. Private workouts come next and if he is drafted, minicamp will follow. That will determine if he makes the team and if he'll play as a rookie.

That's the future. In the present, the focus on a stopwatch or a rep count no longer has top billing on Brown's priority list. And that's just fine with him.

"Now man, it's a wonderful feeling," he said. "Being done with the whole scouting process and really focusing on the football part of it now, it's a good feeling, man. I feel like I can relax and get back to what I do best."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories