Year three the key for Brown

Bigger, stronger, just as fast, and finally comfortable, Irish junior speed-burner Chris Brown focuses on the little things as he prepares for his third season in South Bend.

More than 20 pounds ago, Chris Brown was willing to mix it up.

A two-trick pony as a freshman wide receiver in 2012, Brown ran deep posts and the occasional hook route. As a result, just 12 balls were thrown in his direction though of the two caught, one ranked among the most important of Notre Dame's undefeated regular season, a 50-yard post at Oklahoma that set up what proved to be the game's winning score.

But then listed at a mere 172 pounds, there was Brown at season's end, hustling across the field to block his assigned defender more than 40 yards downfield as senior Cierre Wood celebrated Senior Day and the Irish home finale with a 68-yard score.

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Brown wasn't the play's hero, save for the fact that Wood likely wouldn't have scored without him.

As a perimeter player in a multi-faceted collegiate attack, it's the little things that count, and with at least six potential starters comprising Notre Dame's wide receiver unit next fall, Brown needs as many little things that add up as he does big plays and quick hitters to secure his spot.

"Come out everyday, work on one thing, and by the end of spring, you've improved (across the board)," said Brown of his daily focus. "I really just want to be somebody everybody can depend on. We say 'Count on me' (breaking the pre-practice huddle). I just want to be consistent every day, master my craft and let it go from there."

Brown's 172-pound listing from August 2012 is relevant in that it's no longer the case. Now 194, the junior hardly resembles Michael Floyd, but a stiff wind is no longer likely to blow over the man affectionally referred to as "Breezy."

"My speed is up. I attribute that to (Strength & Conditioning) Coach (Paul) Longo and his staff. I feel good. There's an adjustment (gaining weight). You can get off press more and you can fight to hold your line, things that are harder having a bigger DB on you. But once you're size for size, it becomes natural."

So natural that he's targeted by his classmate and friend Keivarae Russell on a daily basis. His junior counterpart at cornerback has also added nearly 20 pounds since flailing as a true freshman tackler against Alabama in the BCS Championship game 15 months ago.

The always brash Russell now regularly backs it up as he mixes it up, physically and mentally with Notre Dame's youth-filled receiving corps.

"Oh Chris Brown, easily," said Russell when asked who he enjoys challenging most. "We've been battling since my freshman year. He's my brother. We're that close. (At practice) he caught two balls on me. He didn't catch anything yesterday. I've been locking them all up. I told him after practice, 'Bro. tomorrow I'm going to kill you. Just be ready. I'm going to kill you tomorrow.'"

Brown views Jones as an example of a veteran who mastered his craft

Though Brown admits he enjoys the battles as well, his focus with the season more than five months away is more technical.

"From stance and start to better (cleaner) catches and being more consistent, to high-pointing balls. I just want to fine tune it," he said. "More speed out of my breaks. That's what I'm working on this spring. This is the time to get better, and I think I'm doing that."

Brown caught 15 passes last fall, the most important a 40-yarder in a 31-24 win over Purdue at West Lafayette. The grab marked his seventh of the season through three games -- he secured just three more over the final nine contests of the regular season before catching a career-best five balls to help finish off Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly has often noted that the third season in his program often allows a player to settle into a comfort zone. Expect Brown to follow suit.

"Coach Longo once said that you have to prepare to be a pro. You have to come with the same habits every day," Brown offered. "You have to develop strong habits, and I felt like (graduated senior receiver) TJ (Jones) had great habits as far as his work ethic, his studying, his precision in his routes and his technique. He was a master of his craft."

"You come in and you don't know that much," he said of his early collegiate experience. "Once you finally get it, I'm going into my third year, I know all the stuff. It's just about mastering the technique and being consistent. Not so much the knowledge of the plays, but the techniques, the little things that people wouldn't really notice. When they say (break off a route) 14 yards, they mean 14 yards. When they say 12 yards, they mean 12 yards."

Integral to that end is mastering something Jones learned in his third season -- playing through daily aches and pains.

"Your body is your Temple. You have to take care of your body," Brown noted. "There might be times you want to go lay in your room, but your body is all you have."

Brown's is equipped with more armor entering Year 3. Better blocks, cleaner catches, and more big plays are expected to follow. Top Stories