The effort put forth by Sergio Brown in last season's opener vs. San Diego State should be archived and shown to all first-time starters that don the gold helmet. p>
He pressured Aztecs QB Ryan Lindley with blitzes off the edge. He broke up passes at the line due to sheer athleticism and timing while altering Lindley's passing angles throughout the contest. Brown added a stop behind the line on a swing pass in the flat added a crucial blocked punt that set up Notre Dame's first score of the season (and a 7-7 halftime tie).
The Irish safety was all over the field, doing most of his damage playing in the box, and coming off the edge in blitz packages.
The season-opener was a microcosm of his season. Brown struggled a bit in downfield zone coverage, and he struggled a bit more running with slot receivers and tight ends down the seams (and especially on deep corner routes). But there's one role for which Brown was, and still is ideally suited in this Irish defense: ATHLETE.
Susceptible (as are most nickel safeties) to quick/crafty slot receivers in man-to-man coverage, Brown might face stiff competition from whoever ends up as the team's "third" CB after fall camp (the guess here is Raeshon McNeil, but more on that later). But what Brown lacks in innate coverage ability he makes up for with a knack for the big play, and a player with that unique skill should thrive with Co-Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta calling the shots from above.
Brown's official position this season will be SS, where he'll back up 5th year senior Kyle McCarthy. And technically (from a writer's point of view), his move from the defensive "quarterback" role of (backup) FS last year to SS in '09 makes sense. The closer he is to the line of scrimmage, the more comfortable Brown seems. And a comfortable, aggressive Brown should again equate to more uncertain afternoons for opposing quarterbacks.
I believe Brown will win (retain) the nickel DB role through fall camp (and fifth DB is basically a "starter" in today's pass heavy game anyway). But whether Brown sees most of his action as the 5th or 6th defensive back; as a hybrid S/SLB in blitz packages; or simply as the teams next great special teams pest, he'll make an extensive impact somewhere on the field this season. There's plenty of competition for Brown's defensive roles, but if I were choosing 11-12 defenders to win a game for me, Sergio Brown would be one of them.
Brown's Best of 2008
- A 4th and 10 pass breakup (again at the line of scrimmage) with 1:47 to seal the 21-13 season-opening win vs. the Aztecs.
- A 2nd and 5 midfield sack of Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard near the end of the first half. The resulting 12-yard loss secured a 21-7 halftime advantage over the Cardinal.
- A pass breakup, tackle for loss, blocked punt (and recovery) in the first half of the Hawaii Bowl victory vs. the Warriors.
2009 Areas for Improvement
- As previously mentioned, Brown was beaten repeatedly by slot receivers on corner routes and down the seams early last season. Departed FS David Bruton was often in position to cover up Brown's (and everyone else's) mistakes in coverage. While new FS Harrison Smith has the skill set, the Irish secondary won't have Bruton to erase their mistakes in '09.
- Brown was a bit of a body tackler last season…throwing his body at opponents and failing to wrap up. Improvement here should come with experience (and likely an earful from the coaching staff).