Replacing Jamarca

Junior Johnny Brown has been serving an apprenticeship, of sorts, to former Strong Safety Jamarca Sanford since he arrived on campus. He says he's ready to step in. Read about it inside.

Since last football season, a lot has been made of the task of replacing All-Americans Peria Jerry and Michael Oher, both first-round draft picks in the NFL.

But the hard fact is they are not the only 2008 seniors the Rebels have to replace with "like" talent to realize their lofty dreams and goals.

Case in point, SS Jamarca Sanford - arguably the glue of last year's secondary and one of the best run stoppers on the squad - is now gone.

That's a lot of experience and a lot of tackles to replace.

Fortunately for the Rebels, it's one area where the coaches feel will be in good hands because it's now junior Johnny Brown's turn to start and shine.

"Johnny has played a lot of football here and he's a guy we trust," said Safeties Coach Kim Dameron. "He worked hard in the offseason to prepare himself for this opportunity of his role expanding and I'm very comfortable with him."

Brown does not look at the task at hand as "filling the shoes" of Jamarca.

"I'm not concentrating on filling Jamarca's shoes. I'm concentrating on helping this team win and win big," Brown said. "Jamarca was Jamarca, a great player. I am just myself and I want to prove I can be a great player too in my own right.

"I will concentrate on doing my job and helping my team win. Besides, Jamarca helped prepare me for this. We knew he wouldn't be here forever and the time has come to apply what he taught me and carry the torch to higher levels."

Brown said he's ready for the challenge.

"I'm ready and the whole defense is ready. It's not about one guy, it's about all 11 of us and our backups," Johnny continued. "A defense is only as strong as its weakest link and, honestly, I do not see any weak links. I think we can all go out there and do our jobs and do them well."

Johnny has always been a hard worker and has been rewarded for that with substantial playing time during his career, but when he was finally penciled in as a starter, he fine-tuned his preparation for the upcoming year in the offseason.

"I turned myself over to the strength staff," he continued. "I have spent a lot of time with them to get better. The secondary spent a lot of time together in the offseason and we drove each other hard to improve the areas we needed to improve.

"I worked very hard on my ball skills and on my speed. I feel I'm better in both areas. My speed on breaks is better and my hands are better once I get in a position to make a play. I work on the jugs gun a lot and feel comfortable now."

Brown says he's also more mature as a football player than he's been in the past.

"It's natural to grow up as you get older. My focus is better now. Because I'm more mature, I enjoy the process of getting better more than I did before," he explained. "I enjoy spending time with my coaches and my teammates and I enjoy taking steps to improve. I'm no longer a guy who is just doing enough to get by or get playing time. Like I said, I have grown up."

Johnny is thankful for his time with Sanford and with current Free Safety Kendrick Lewis, a senior.

"Jamarca taught me how to play the game with passion like every play was your last play," Johnny added. "Kendrick has taught me a lot about studying film and how important it is not only to know my job but to know everyone's job so I will know how to react accordingly.

"They have helped me a lot in getting ready for what is ahead of me."

Brown believes he has reached a comfort level that will allow him to not only make the plays right in front of him, so to speak, but make some big plays as well.

"Our defense puts us in the position to make big plays. It's up to us to go out there and make them. I'm confident I can do that."

Johnny is not bashful when asked to predict the prowess of the 2009 Rebel defense.

"I think we are going to be one of the fastest defenses in the country, physically and mentally. We don't have to think as much this year. We are on auto-pilot. We can just go out there and play football and every position has a fast player," said Brown.

The preseason hype the Rebels are receiving has not taken away Brown's focus.

"I'm a pretty humble person," he closed. "I don't get too involved with the hype. I come to work every day to get better. That's the attitude of the whole team.

"We are focused and we will stay that way, through thick and thin."

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