That helps. Because the way Brown and this Bulldog passing game keep developing, look for him to continue shuttling between opposite sideline spots as well as the interior slot. Maybe he did not expect to take turns at all Mississippi State wide receiver roles this season…
…but he can.
“Basically Coach G (Billy Gonzales) tells us learn all the formations when we come in,” Brown said. “Learn all the concepts. If you get that you’re going to play any position at this stage.”
The latest addition to Brown’s receiver repertoire is filling in at slot, or H. The job normally held by team-leading receiver Fred Ross. Normally defined as ‘not hurting’ which Ross suddenly was after opening strong against Louisiana Tech.
#2 slot man Gabe Myles was already out that day, and while freshman Malik Dear was able to step in he still couldn’t go any entire game just yet. So, receivers coach Gonzales told Brown to move inside for some specific plays.
All went well. As it should, per Brown.
“Basically everybody has to be ready. If one man goes down the next man has to step up and make those plays. Coach G challenged me and Bear (De’Runnya Wilson) this past Saturday when Fred Ross went down, so we made some plays to keep the game going.”
The scoreboard agreed with that assessment. Mississippi State’s passing game produced 303 yards and three touchdowns, one of which belonged to Brown. It was his first score of the junior season and third career.
Note, this points-play did not come during one of his slot assignments. “My touchdown I was at outside,” Brown said. “The corner kind of played dividers on the tight end and me, when Dak (Prescott) pumped him he went to the tight end. Then he just came back outside.”
The result was a 12-yard touchdown connection. Brown caught two other balls for a net of 63 yards, working inside and outside. It’s worth adding that while Gonzales tells Brown to know what to do, where, and when at slot, he has not taken many practice turns there.
Or, “Rarely,” as Brown said. “But my name and number were called to make those plays. And I had to do it.”
Ross is expected back this weekend for Kentucky, and there’s a chance Myles returns after a two-game absence as well. Of course young Dear keeps developing his own slot receiver and runner skills. So it’s not likely Brown gets called inside again any time soon.
It is just knowing he can and will get it done there that points to how far Brown has come in his craft. “I think I’ve developed quite a bit with route running, and just getting open. And just beating man to man coverage because you have to do that playing in this conference,” he said.
“Me, Bear, Fred Ross, coming to practice every day and making each other better and competing.”
It’s no coincidence, the trio Brown talks of. They make up Mississippi State’s starters at X, Z, and H receivers. Ross and Wilson grab the spotlight usually, as they have 38 and 29 receptions respectively and 855 yards. So Brown (16, 250) is the lower-key catcher, statistically at least.
More plays like last week though should raise #5’s profile. “I think this past Saturday just boosted me up a little bit to make those great catches, those down the field catches. And when somebody thinks that it’s an incomplete pass and I make that play.”
Such feats show Brown belongs in the top tier of this talented wideout corps. For that matter Brown showed his skills during the 2012 redshirt season, then as ’13 backup. Rotation roles last fall produced 18 catches and a 16.6-yard average with two touchdowns.
It means Brown has practiced patience working his way up.
“Yeah, basically when I first came in I was kind of immature. I’ve kind of grown over the years and started to learn how the Bulldog way, playing with relentless effort and going hard each and every play. And learning new route concepts and how to run routes from different coaches. And just making plays.”
It’s reasonable to remind that some plays are made possible because coverages focus on Wilson and Ross. Brown isn’t too proud to accept single-man matchups, of course. With every ball he hauls in, defenses have to make some pretty hard choices about adjusting.
“Sometimes they’ll try to match up on Bear. So yeah, they’ll leave me and Fred Ross or one-on-one matchups. Or they’ll come to the outside with me and Bear.” From there it’s up to Prescott to pick who is the preferred progression. And so on.
Barring other injury Brown seems nicely settled outside. He won’t mind if asked to move back inside again. Nor, he said, is he caught confused and asking himself wait, where am I now? “I know I’m playing H, I’m not playing outside so I’ve got the flat on this play, I’ve got the up-and-over on the next play, I’ve got the bubble on the next play, run plays.”
Outside, inside, either side, Fred Brown is just plain comfortable and confident as a first-squad receiver. And who knows? Maybe one of these upcoming games it’s him, not Wilson or Ross, who attracts the double-coverage.
It’s respect, and a challenge too. But, “When that day comes I’ll take advantage of it!”