That all changed Monday, when the NFL suspended Colts safety LaRon Landry four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
The Colts didn’t hesitate to promote Brown to starter. In 66 career appearances, counting the playoffs, the fifth-year pro has started just three times. That smells of opportunity for Sunday’s Lucas Oil Stadium visitor, the Baltimore Ravens, who stretch the field with wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Torrey Smith.
Brown doesn’t have the bodybuilding physique of Landry, but the 6-2, 218-pound safety is confident in his athleticism when faced with the likes of the Smiths.
“It definitely could be an opportunity to prove that I can play in this NFL at any position,” said Brown, who played his college ball at Notre Dame. “If it’s on defense or special teams, I just want to go out there and put my best foot forward and have whoever judges me be the judge of whatever I do.”
Brown can get a bit hyper on the field. And jumpy defenders are known to be prone to mistakes, like the memorable one he made in 2012. Jacksonville’s Cecil Shorts III beat Brown off the line for an 80-yard, game-winning TD pass in the final minutes at Lucas Oil Stadium. As Shorts accelerated into the clear, Brown smacked both sides of his helmet in disgust.
“I just want him to relax,” said safety Mike Adams, who had two interceptions in last week’s 41-17 home win over Tennessee. “If I can make the calls, get him lined up right, just let him play fast and let him do what he does. I’ve seen Serg practice, and even when I first got here, it surprised me he only had a handful of starts. He goes hard. Even on special teams you can see him, he plays so relentless.
“We’ll see because you know he’s definitely a fireball. He’s a motor. He goes, he goes and that’s just one of the things he does. I probably have to calm him down here and there. But I’m not worried about Serg at all. He’s a smart guy. He knows the calls. He knows everything. He knows what to do. I’ve probably got to adjust to him. I’ve probably got to keep up with him.”
Brown did get first-team reps in training camp and offseason training activities.
“It helped tremendously,” he said. “Just getting out there, you won’t be able to learn the same amount or prepare the same way if you’re looking at things from the sideline. But those reps definitely helped out as I’m getting ready to play more defense.”
Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was asked how Brown differs from Landry, who went to the Pro Bowl for the New York Jets in 2012.
“Everybody has their unique way of playing, and I think Serg is more of a ball hawk, more than anything, than Landry is,” Manusky said. “Landry’s a little bit more of a box player, getting downhill, making tackles in the box. Serg is a little bit more on the backend of it, free safety-ish, looking at the quarterback trying to get off the breaks of the quarterback and make plays up top in the middle of the field. From that standpoint, I think it’s a little bit different.”
Manusky reiterates what Brown already knows, that a key to Sunday is staying under control.
“You don’t want him amped up,” the coach said. “Any game that you play, those safeties have to communicate with the whole secondary. From Sergio, you don’t want a guy that’s always amped up and ready to roll. They got to be patient. They’ve got to be calm, making the right corrections on the backend and making the right calls.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.