During his senior season at Troy, Chicago Bears offensive lineman James Brown was considered by many as a potential second- or third-round draft pick. Yet Brown (6-4, 306) was labeled as too much of a "tweener" – too small to play offensive tackle and not big enough to play guard – and he fell out of the draft.
His athleticism and talent made him a priority free agent for the Bears immediately after the draft. He worked as a tackle during training camp and was impressive enough to earn a spot on the team's practice squad.
Bear Report sits down with Brown to see where he's at in his rookie season.
"They are throwing a lot of learning at me right now when I am out on the field with the practice squad. What's happening is that I am getting moved to various positions on the line. It's a great education for any rookie lineman to have.
"I'm definitely relieved that what I know already is translating relatively well to this level. Of course the offense is much more complex than what I had in college. That's a learning curve for sure. There are many different schemes involved and we have to understand every one of them.
"My technique at tackle is sound, according to my coaches. But they also tell me there is plenty of room for improvement . What I need to work on is shifting around the line and doing well in each spot. Versatility in the NFL is a huge plus.
"I was a two-year starter at Troy, a small college in the Sun Belt conference. Surprisingly, I don't find the transition from a small school atmosphere as difficult as I thought it might be. The young players here get great support from their coaches and from the other players. That helps alleviate some of the pressure.
"But that doesn't mean that as a rookie you have no pressure to perform. I go out there very single day trying to improve upon what I have accomplished the day before. I know the coaches expect that of me. Its the kind of situation where if you don't show you are better every time they see you on the field, you just might be gone.
"I've enjoyed the Bears conditioning program. I've always liked lifting weights. I was the Mississippi champ in 2005 in weightlifting. The Bears program is much more comprehensive than what we had in school. Here you don't just need to be strong, you need to be agile as well. At times that can be difficult for a guy who is as large as I am. I am currently 6-4 and weigh 306 pounds. That's a lot to move around.
"The nutrition program here is excellent. Diets are individualized for each player. I watch what I eat and follow the guidelines. The physical benefits are noticeable. I definitely feel stronger and faster than I ever have before.
"Some days I look at the game schedule and can't believe that we aren't that far into the season. We still have a few months to go. My friends on the Troy team are almost done right now. I know from what other players tell me that I have to rest whenever possible. It's a long way from training camp through the playoffs. I understand how important it is to be strong physically that entire way.
"What I've enjoyed most about being on the practice squad is the opportunity to see the defenses that they throw at us. Its a unique situation and provides great training. You are always learning to adjust. I've also enjoyed being on the sidelines on game day. The atmosphere is electric and I absorb it all.
"As a rookie on the practice squad, I learn by doing and by watching the vets when they are on the field. I study film extensively. I spend extra time at practice perfecting technique. The whole thing is harder than I'd expected but it's definitely something I can do successfully. I feel that my time will come and I want to be ready for that. I want to justify the coaches' faith in me and my abilities.
"I've learned to love Monday night games. It's usually the only game on and the spotlight is on your team. How much fun is that? I hear from my friends, my old teammates, my family. Everybody's watching. Big time players who I've only seen before on TV show up at the stadium to watch. That's as good as it gets.
"My goal for the immediate future is to practice hard and learn everything quickly. I'm concentrating on technique and speed right now. I know I have a ways to go but I have faith that I'll get there eventually."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.