Brown ready for second chance

Cornell Brown didn't burn down all of his bridges with the Baltimore Ravens. Despite his sudden dismissal from the NFL football team last fall on the same day he was charged with misdemeanor drug offenses, the veteran outside linebacker moved on to impress Ravens coach Brian Billick with a touch of personal growth.

Baltimore reached back into its Super Bowl past of two seasons ago by signing the former Virginia Tech All-American pass rusher to a one-year contract worth $525,000 on Tuesday.

"It's a life experience," Brown said. "I got a second chance, and I got to make the most of it. I learned a lot, just growing up being a man about situations that happen in your life. I'm a more mature man now."

Instead of dwelling on his arrest for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia charges and subsequent probation before judgment while out of football last season, Brown kept his body in condition and flexed some mental muscles, too.

The Lynchburg native graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor's degree in consumer studies nearly five years after a completing a stellar career that included 40 sacks and Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors.

"We keep preaching to these young people, ‘Overcome your mistakes, get your degree, go back to school,'" Billick said. "To me, that says that maybe he's learned a couple of life lessons and deserves another shot.

"He's a guy who deserves to be on a football team and ought to be a great example, if he chooses to be so, to the young people on this team."

Brown was signed by the Oakland Raiders in February, but was released in June, apparently because of a glut of linebackers. Billick said the Ravens had wanted to acquire Brown's services before Oakland signed the special teams standout whom Baltimore chose in the sixth round with the 194th overall selection of the 1997 NFL Draft.

In the reduced Ravens' new 3-4 defensive alignment, Brown will rotate with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware, Adalius Thomas and Shannon Taylor. Brown has collected 84 career tackles, 43 stops on special teams, 4.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception.

During the Ravens' run toward a Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2000, Brown was an integral part of the team with 25 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and nine special teams tackles, though he started only one game.

"Cornell will bring fire, aggression, heart and fun back into it," Pro Bowl defensive end Michael McCrary said. "I always had a great time playing with him. He's a really good guy and I'm probably more excited than anybody to have him back."

 The arrest of Brown and two others on drug charges at the linebacker's home in Owings Mills last year stemmed from Baltimore County police assigned to a drug unit entering the residence with a search and seizure warrant.

Police were acting on neighbors' complaints regarding alleged drug activity and discovered marijuana and drug paraphernalia, according to a police report.

"The sequence of what happened before has been documented," Billick said. "I don't want to spend a lot of time on that."

This wasn't Brown's first brush with law enforcement officials, though. It was a continuation of a pattern of off-field incidents.

Brown was convicted in 1997 on a misdemeanor assault and battery charge for a fight that occurred in Blacksburg in 1996. He was sentenced to 30 days of jail, serving only two under a suspended sentence.

Brown was arrested in 1998 for driving under the influence in Blacksburg with a 1999 conviction on that charge. His license was suspended for one year and he received a suspended jail sentence.

Any more trouble away from football on Brown's part would draw a predictable action from the Ravens.

"Clearly, he understands what the circumstances are," Billick said. "He understands why we did what we did before, but he has earned this chance to get another shot."

The Ravens have few, if any, questions about Brown's football skills. He started five games with 32 tackles when Boulware was injured in 1999.

In the past, Brown played on virtually every special team, competing on the punt coverage, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return units.

"He brings a lot of versatility and adds another athlete to the equation," Thomas said.

 Brown said he has learned a lot in his 27 years. He said the termination of his contract in Baltimore actually benefited him in a strange way because it allowed him the time to complete his degree requirements.

From Brown's days when he approached the lofty standard set by Bruce Smith as a Hokie to his sibling rivalry with his brother, Ruben Brown, the Pro Bowl offensive guard, this represents another chance to play football.

Brown's return is also a byproduct of leaving on the best terms possible and not getting involved in any complaints or litigation regarding the Ravens' cutting him after issuing him one paycheck last September.

"Conduct is something I really have to control more than anything," Brown said. "I've got to be really cautious of my own self. I look forward to proving myself. There are more mature situations I make in my own life now." 

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