"I look at practice different now then I did as a freshman," Brown said on Thursday. "Last year, I was kind of nervous when I was going against the good receivers that we've got on our team. But now, it's more that I'm trying to work on my technique and trying to make myself better."
The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder sat out Thursday's practice after spraining his left ankle earlier in the week. He came down on his ankle wrong while working in 1-on-1 drills, but expects to be back practicing "in a couple of days."
Sophomore linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter told Inside Carolina on Tuesday that they played their freshman seasons relying just as much on pure athleticism as they did on actual knowledge of the game. Add Brown to that ever-growing list of trial by fire participants in Davis' first season in Chapel Hill.
"I would agree – 50/50," said Brown, who posted 59 tackles, five tackles for loss, two interceptions and a sack in 2007. "In the first half of the season, I probably didn't know half of what I was supposed to be doing at all. Anybody will tell you that. [Former defensive coordinator Chuck] Pagano and [defensive assistant] John Lovett put me out there, and they knew that I knew how to play football, but I didn't know exactly how to do what it was that I was supposed to be doing."
Brown indicated that problem has changed dramatically for the better.
"I know the whole defense now," Brown said. "I know what the linebackers and the safeties are doing, and I know what the defensive line is doing. Last year I was really just playing by knowing my own responsibility."
Even while missing practice, Brown has took it upon himself to help coach the other players at cornerback that are less experienced than him, a list that includes Jordan Hemby, Brian Gupton, Richie Rich and Johnny White.
A first-team member of The Sporting News All-ACC Freshman Team, Brown started nine games last fall at either nickel back or cornerback. He began the season at nickel, but when Kendric Williams was lost to the season due to injury, he moved to cornerback for the second half of the season.
While Brown is listed as a starter at cornerback opposite Kendric Burney this preseason, he will move to the nickel back position when the defense shifts to a nickel set, with Jordan Hemby or Richie Rich taking over the corner spot. The nickel back position consists of more run-stopping responsibilities, while the cornerback role requires more man-to-man coverages.
"You learn from both positions," Brown said. "It's made me a better tackler playing nickel back, but when I'm playing corner, I'm having to work more on my pass defense skills, so it might be good on my resume that I've played both of them… I figure that in the NFL – that's my goal – I probably will play a certain type of nickel back. Corner is my primary position now, but I play them both."
Starting in the secondary as a sophomore for a BCS-level program almost never happened for Brown. He had committed to Bowling Green during his senior season before UNC and Connecticut offered him scholarships just prior to Signing Day in Feb. of '07. But even with the little fanfare during his recruitment, Brown made a statement in his opening game against James Madison, tying for a team-high nine tackles.
"It really wasn't a surprise to me or to my family and friends, and maybe not even to the [UNC] coaches, because they knew I was a real good player," said Brown, who added a 92-yard interception return for touchdown against N.C. State – third-longest in school history. "It was just something that happened with the recruiting where it wasn't working for me. I don't know the whole process, but we were doing something wrong or my coaches were doing something wrong in high school."
Brown attributes much of his freshman season success to his freshmen counterparts in the secondary – safety Deunta Williams and Burney.
"I can't say enough about Deunta and K.B.," Brown said. "Deunta is the leader out there playing safety. Last year, he and Trimane [Goddard] carried me through the season. In certain coverages, I'd look at them and they'd give me the signal. Because a lot of the stuff I really didn't know, coming from playing safety, linebacker and wide receiver in high school. Our bond is real strong – they know what I'm doing and I know what they're doing."
North Carolina's team goal has been made abundantly clear during training camp – Brown said that every time the team breaks a huddle, they say, "ACC Championship." The sophomore also has some lofty goals of his own.
"My personal goal is that I'm shooting for seven to eight interceptions this year," Brown said. "And I had 59 tackles last season, so I want to get at least 65 this year. I don't know if I'm going to reach it, but I'm going to try my hardest to."