…but when the understudy has the talents and tools Brown brings, well, suddenly it seems no big deal at all. "It's great. It's exciting, really just glad to be out there and having fun with it."
Fun indeed. Brown has stepped into the one opening in the starting linebacker unit as if groomed for that job all along. Which of course, he was. Besides, this is no ordinary ‘backup' if such a label can be used. Brown finished his redshirt freshman season with 39 tackles, eighth-most on the entire team and fourth-best among linebackers. He even started three times when Skinner was limited by injury and the Dog defense didn't miss a step.
Even better, getting a healthy taste of starting status has accelerated Brown's career progress. Call it a springboard into spring.
"Yes, towards the end of the season when Skinner got hurt I took it to preparation, watched the film harder, just got ready to play. So that was a big learning curve for me. Now it all is basically just learning technique and getting ready."
Based on his practices and scrimmages this camp, Brown is ready. Very ready. He certainly looks the part of an ideal ‘big' outside linebacker at 235 pounds and a frame that seems longer than the listed 6-1. It's easy to watch Brown work and think he's a defensive end or something after putting on college muscle.
"Ha, somewhat! But I just try to make sure I'm gaining weight but also keeping my speed. Just working hard and keeping my speed up." It's that speed and reach which suits Brown so well for the outside role. Oh, and his mindset too. "I like just being out in space, going to make open field tackles. And also being in the box, I like physical play so it's all just out there having fun."
Physicality won't be a problem in this bunch, not when Brown is paired with MLB Benardrick McKinney. Yet all three starters can scoot, since small OLB Matt Wells is a converted safety after all. And the second group is every bit as agile. That matters because coordinator Geoff Collins will rotate his troops, not just individual ‘backers but entire trios regardless of field position and situation.
In which case Brown boasted "We're not missing anything, we don't have 1s and 2s and 3s. All of us are the same. So we come out and compete. That's a good thing about our defense, if one of us gets tired we have trust in the man behind us to come in and do the same job that we can."
Fans at the Maroon-White Game had a few chances to judge for themselves how well-stocked the linebacker larder is in 2014. What might not have been as noticeable from the seats but is evident in drills is how Collins has coached his crew on everything. Literally everything, as in whatever one's primary position he must know what the other two linebackers are assigned. Even how to execute their jobs if necessary.
This, Brown said, is a great big confidence booster to all ‘backers.
"Because every play you're comfortable. You don't feel like you're ‘out in space' and you don't know what to do at this position. So if you get put into a bad situation you don't have to panic. You already have learned every position as soon as you get here. You're comfortable, you can play fast and no slowing down."
Brown's learning began the day he arrived on campus and it wasn't Collins doing the first coaching. He had the luxury of signing-on with Mississippi State when Cameron Lawrence was running the show on-field. Lawrence, himself a former wideout-turned-safety-turned linebacker, could play inside and outside with equal ease. "That showed me a lot," Brown said. "Watching Skinner taught me a lot more. Now I'm into learning film and getting better in my technique every day."
So what technical items top Brown's to-do list for 2014, spring and preseason? "Using my hands and getting the linemen off. Because in the SEC those linemen are big and physical so they get up on you in a hurry. You've got to be able to ‘shoot' your hands and get them off of you, so that's one of my big things. The other thing is watching film, kind of getting to notice what the offense is going to run before they run it. So it's all about that."
This reflects the fact Brown brings a whole ‘nother perspective to playing this year. He's seen, and felt too, what really happens on the field. He better understands what works, what doesn't, and why. So he's watching that film with seasoned eyes now. Brown also recognizes that as a first-teamer he has extra responsibilities. He's the one being watched now.
"Yeah, it's big. I'm just trying to do the right thing all the time. And if they do something to mess up, now I'm kind of to the stage where I first was. When I came in with Cam and Skinner, if I did something they would come tell me. Now, I'm doing that with the younger guys. So it's fun with it, but it also means you've got to be ready."
Speaking of fun, it's quite the rowdy group Brown is part of…and the liveliest wire in the lot is their coach. Having the coordinator in charge of linebackers does mean, Brown said, they are held to a higher standard of sorts. No down days allowed, he means.
"Coach is really just having fun with us this year, preparing us, just a lot of different things. We're trying to have juice, be destructive, so the offense doesn't know what's coming. We're prepared for anything, and just play hard."
It is also entertaining when the Brown Brothers get to team-up. Only an all-star like Benardrick McKinney can keep Richie Brown in an alternate—not backup—role for now. But boy, when both Browns are on the field together, watch out. In fact, that applies everywhere.
"Me and him ever since we came in we've worked hard together, we've watched film," Beniquez said. "In the meeting room Coach asks us questions and we're about on the same page with everything. So we can be out there, we can communicate without even talking. We just give each other a look or something and we're ready to go. We've just got that chemistry with each other."
Chemistry, juice, and destruction…quite a defensive formula for the 2014 season.