For the first two seasons of his career at Notre Dame, Sergio Brown has consistently contributed with the special teams unit, with only spotty production out of the defensive backfield. Thanks in part to the loss of cornerback Darrin Walls, Brown seems to have received his opportunity to show his abilities. Although the defense took a hit with Walls' departure, defensive coordinator Corwin Brown feels his group is progressing well.
"Oh they're definitely progressing," coach Brown said. "They are definitely progressing. When I say, ‘we want to play at this level. We don't just want to be good. We want to be at this level,' and like I said, we expect everybody, doesn't matter who we put out there to kind of take the lead and make plays. Like we get a lot of pass break-ups. We want interceptions. Sometimes we're in positions where we make tackles. Well we can make those tackles but we're asking those guys to strip, and those are things that we're asking those guys to go that extra. It's not okay just to be in a position and break it up. If you're in a position, intercept the ball."
With that said, and something that is very familiar to coach Brown's mantra, there is always room for improvement.
"We've done some things well," Brown said. "But then there are other things where we would like to be much better and we're going to continue to work at that."
One of his players that has shown this development is Sergio Brown, whom his coach had high praise for.
"I would say that," coach Brown said of Sergio's athleticism being one of the main reasons for his added responsibility this fall. "But he's a physical player. That's the one thing about him. Take the athleticism out of it. First and foremost he brings a physical presence in there, and that's kind of what we like, starting off."
The junior safety couldn't agree more that he brings an essential element of aggressive, physical play, while adding speed and velocity to the mix.
"I get an occasional blitz once in a while and I can't wait for it," he said. "I try to do as much as I can. I'm a bigger defensive back and I can move a little bit."
For this reason, the Proviso East High School product has been getting reps at the nickelback slot, a position that is easily interchangeable.
"We have some flexibility with a couple of guys," coach Brown said. "But by having Raeshon [McNeil] holding the outside, now we can put another guy inside. If we want to move Raeshon inside, then we can put another guy on the outside. The better guys play, the better flexibility it gives you. So [Sergio Brown] has done a fairly good job in there for us."
Now that he has been put in position to make the plays, Brown is ready and doesn't want to let his opportunity pass him by.
"I would say so," Brown said of his chance finally arriving. "I'm on the field more, I feel comfortable, and just ready to play."
Part of Brown's added responsibility is to play closer to the line of scrimmage and make tackles when the ball carrier is in his area. Among other things, he must successfully cover receivers when they line up in front of him.
"Stop the run," he said. "Bring a lot of contact. I have to be able to cover slot receivers well … I'm very comfortable [near the line of scrimmage.] If I get a little receiver, I can push him out of the way. But when I get that number 44 coming my way, I've got to do some work."
The Maywood, Ill. native earned his spot with his contributions on special teams — a role he still must complete regardless of his added playing time.
"I'm on every special teams drill," Brown said. "I just have to run faster and play harder."
There were some moments during Brown's first two seasons when he felt the frustrations of having to sit on the sidelines while his teammates continued to see the field and contribute. All of this was a learning process that he realized he had to endure if he wanted to see the field.
"It feels like it's been real long, and my time has come now so I feel real happy about that," he said. "It's like waiting and waiting. I mean, if you're not on the field, then you're not satisfied with your playing time. At times it's tough not to get real aggravated just waiting, but my time has come at a great time."
To cope and overcome this disturbance with respect to his lack of playing time, all Brown had to do was one thing — improve.
"I just had to work on what I had to work on," he said. "I went to the coaches and asked what I needed to do. So I started working on everything that I could."
Now that Brown is finally taking serious reps with the defense, he is enjoying every moment of it. The process of waiting, in Brown's eyes, has only made this instance that he has been waiting for extremely rewarding.
"It does make it more worthwhile," he said. "It's something you have to wait for and it's your time to come, so you just have to be ready."
Since Brown is manning the nickelback spot, there is only one way to look to — upwards towards progress.
"There's no steps back," Brown said. "The arrow is pointing up so you can't do anything but look to get better."
If Brown's development from one year to the next is any indication, opposing running backs shouldn't look to run the ball up field — because that's where they can find Sergio Brown.