“I’ve been an older guy since last year, I stepped into a starting position. This year we just have to replace the senior guys and De’Runnya (Wilson) gone. So I have to step in and be that guy.”
It’s only natural wide receiver Brown wants to take a role as lead Dog in the 2016 passing attack. As a junior, promoted to the starting lineup, Brown was fourth in catches and third in yardage while scoring three touchdowns.
Of course his 2015 was spent in the statistical shadow of opposite split end De’Runnya Wilson and slot receiver Fred Ross. With Wilson moving on early to the NFL, it’s up to Brown to become the top outside option. He’s ready for the chance.
“I’m basically stepping for Bear and trying to be that guy,” Brown said.
Now as this spring is playing out, Brown is forced to step in and up for even more guys. Ross had groin surgery in early March and won’t participate until informal summer workouts. And as Brown was talking to media, fellow split end Donald Gray was watching on crutches with a knee condition that will sideline him for a while, maybe the rest of camp.
College coaches know how to make the best of such situations. The good news, without diminishing anyone’s ills, is Mississippi State has plenty more receivers to plug-in for drills and scrimmaging. Brown sees it every day.
“It opened up a lot for young guys this spring to get better and reach their potential. Since they haven’t really played a lot of ball getting those reps and knowing what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.”
Setting an exact spring depth chart is futile. Coach Billy Gonzales has used the openings, expected or not, to shuttle everyone in and out. Up to Gray’s setback though he and Brown were consistently the first pair of split ends. Then for a day Gray was running #2 behind Brown before his camp halted.
For that matter Brown said he has been splitting snaps at both of the wide positions. “I’m more X right now, beating man-to-man coverage,” he said.
“X and Z are pretty much the same position. So I’ll play X one day and Donald X one day; I’ll play Z one day and he’ll play Z one day. It’s just getting miss-matches in certain defenses and certain schemes. Just using the play we have to go against defensive schemes and just beat it.”
Now with Gray watching, Gabe Myles has stepped up to the first unit. Though, everyone does get turns on that team, led by soph Jesse Jackson with redshirt Jonnas Spivey. In Ross’ absence, and with the move of Myles outside, the slot spot is still crowded with true soph Malik Dear and redshirts Deddrick Thomas and Keith Mixon.
Brown gives the trio a thumbs-up. “Stands out the most, I can’t really say because all three of those guys are doing good. But as in route-running and altogether I’d say Deddrick and Malik.”
As for himself? “I think my spring is going pretty good right now. I’m coming out each and every day trying to get better. I want to reach my potential every day and be an all-around player this year.”
Making himself better is just part of Brown’s job as a veteran. The receivers are expected to make the throwers better, too. And with four passers of varying ages, skills, even sizes, well this keeps wideouts on their toes every snap.
“It’s a challenge each and every day with all four quarterbacks. Damian Williams, Nick Fitzgerald and the young guys Nick Tiano and Eli (Elijah Staley). It’s just a challenge. Eli’s a lefty so you have to get used to his ball! It sails a couple of times.
“But with D-Will and Fitz you’ve got the hang of everything, they know what’s going on. Just the experience that they’ve been here.”
The ‘been there’ qualification is also why Brown misses Ross and Gray. Not just being on the practice field with them but coming to the sideline for quick comparing-notes and instruction of youngsters.
“Both of them, I need them back! I just have to take the leadership role right now as in spring. I have to bring ‘em up and make sure each and every day we’re getting better.”
Which, if we think about it a moment, is just the responsibility Brown wants. As he says, “I want to be that guy.
“Whenever my numbers is called I want to make that play and replace those big plays we had last year.”