Brown Embraces Role As Man In The Middle
Brown Embraces Role as Man in the Middle
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
By Nick Wagoner
Whether it’s a regular practice repetition during the week or an important play late in a crucial game, Jason Brown’s booming voice can often be heard barking at whoever it is that has the unfortunate job of spotting the football before a play.
“I yell this out a lot and everybody looks at me like I am crazy but I do it to set the tempo,” Brown said. “We have to have an attitude in attacking every play with a passion. So one thing I do whenever we start a drill, one of our equipment guys, Matt, that lays the balls down for us, I yell at him ‘PUT THAT BALL DOWN’ and I repeat it and everybody is like ‘Yeah, where is the ball?’ Let’s get in the huddle and get fired up. Sometimes I do that in game situations as well and it’s funny because the ref is supposed to hurry up, spot the ball and get out of the way. I will yell at him too.”
Don’t worry; Brown isn’t going to draw a flag for any of his pre snap antics. While he says it mostly in joking terms, Brown isn’t trying to make anyone laugh and he certainly isn’t trying to antagonize anyone.
Instead, Brown is doing what he believes is an important part of one of the most responsibility-laden positions on the field. He’s setting the pace and the tone. He’s attacking the game with the verve and zest that comes with being with one of the league’s best centers and one of the Rams’ most respected leaders.
Brown’s yelling about the ball is just one of many small things he can do to lead his teammates and establish a pace that he believes can translate into offensive success.
“There are a lot of things I try to bring no matter how little they seem or how funny they seem,” Brown said.
FINDING A CENTERPIECE
Since the departure of fan favorite Andy McCollum a few years ago, the Rams have found themselves in search of a center capable of bringing stability to the position.
In the past few years, the center position has become one of the most important on the field. Offensively, only a quarterback has more responsibilities and needs to know more than the center.
Like the evolution of the left tackle back in the 1980s when Lawrence Taylor and a new breed of pass rushers were wreaking havoc on quarterbacks all over the league, the center has become the new vogue position on the offensive line.
So when the Rams hit the free agent market back in March, they quickly identified Brown as target No. 1 for their rebuilding offensive line.
“You really want to be strong up the middle and he has brought stability to our offensive line,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “He has done a nice job with the calls and the quarterback, the center, the tailback, those are important, key pieces to an offense and when you have a center that is accomplished like he is, it really gives you something to build from.”
Indeed, the responsibilities that fall on a center on a given play are a bit daunting, with a wide variety of circumstances and issues that can come into play on a given down.
Before he even gets into his stance, it is Brown’s job to be aware of the defense, get into position, bark out the line calls and point out potential blitzes or line changes to his fellow offensive linemen.
The first thing Brown must do is identify whether the opposing defense is in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. He quickly barks out how many down linemen there are and then scans the linebacker level to see how many of them are on the field. When that’s done, it’s on to the secondary where Brown must recognize if there’s an extra man, usually a safety, in the “box,” or closer to the line of scrimmage like a linebacker.
After processing all of that knowledge in the time it takes to break the huddle then line up, Brown must decide who the middle linebacker is because most defensive packages base what they are doing off that player and the blocking scheme can adjust and assign duties accordingly.
Brown will point at the middle linebacker and yell “Mike,” the designated call sign of the position.
And all of that is just before the snap. When it’s time to go, Brown must snap the ball, know who to block, block that person, wash, rinse and repeat. And oh by the way, he usually has a 350-pound or so mass of humanity inches from his face ready to wallop him as soon as the ball is snapped.
That doesn’t even take into account the factors out of Brown’s control. After spending most of his first four years in the league at guard, Brown shifted to center for the Ravens in 2008 and didn’t skip a beat.
“It takes a few years to get it down pat,” Brown said. “I’m still learning more and more by leaps and bounds. You can watch as much film as you want to but it really comes down to those actual live reps. If you are sitting there watching film, you’re in a chair relaxed and you can see it from a bird’s eye view. When you are down there on the ground, you are looking through your facemask, leaned over in your stance; you add fatigue to that because as the game wears down you have to be able to think while being physically exhausted. Plus that huge guy thisclose to your face. You have to know it by heart. You have to be a problem solver while you are out there. Fatigue is a factor, crowd noise is a factor. Communication has to be non verbal on the road. Some of these stadiums you play in are so loud. I could yell at the top of my lungs and Richie or Jacob can’t hear me. You have to be able to read lips and be able to understand my point and exactly why I am pointing at a particular man.”
Considering the myriad responsibilities of a center, it’s no wonder it’s becoming one of the league’s vogue positions. It’s even less of a surprise that the Rams made Brown such a priority in the offseason, signing him to a five-year contract worth upwards of $37 million that placed him among the highest paid centers in the NFL.
A STABILIZING FORCE
What Brown brings to the table in term of physical capabilities is undeniable. At 6’3, 320 pounds, he is an immovable object in the middle with the athleticism and nasty disposition to get to the second level and manhandle any defender in his way.
But Brown’s value in the middle goes beyond the aforementioned physical skills and intelligence to handle the responsibilities of his position.
When the Rams placed Brown at the top of their shopping list, they wanted someone who could not only play at a high level but take on a leadership role for a group that was sure to be going through some changes.
“Jason is in the middle; he kind of runs the show and makes a lot of calls,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I think it has been a real positive impact. I think the guys trust him. He has kind of taken a leadership role in that he does a lot of things off the field and outside to kind of bring those guys together. Everything I’ve seen has been positive.”
Some might call it relentlessly positive. In fact, Brown says the first thing he does every day when he walks through the doors of the Russell Training Center is to clear his mind and come in with an attitude that will have an infectious and encouraging impact on the locker room.
“I would see it last year and I see it this year in telling the guys and it kind of comes off as a joke but you have to say it enough and if you say it enough you start to believe,” Brown said. “And that is I look somebody dead in the eye and say ‘Today, you have an opportunity to get better.’ Preparation isn’t always fun. That’s just the truth. We come in here; we work hard to work out the game plan the coaches have put in front of us. No one likes practices but the thing is you can’t take practices for granted. You have to go out in the right frame of mind. You have to go out there focus on attention to detail.”
Almost from the moment of his arrival in St. Louis, Brown has taken all of the necessary steps to fill any potential leadership void the offensive line might have. With impressionable youngsters such as Jason Smith around, Brown is conscious of his role on the team.
That’s just one reason why, when he suffered a sprained knee earlier in the year, Brown made it a point to not only be ready to play in the following Sunday’s game but to be on the practice field taking most of the repetitions with the first unit.
For some players, it’s easy to enjoy a day or two away but that’s not the example Brown wants to set and it’s why he has never missed a game or practice in his time in the NFL.
“Everybody has different roles and responsibilities on this team,” Brown said. “I can’t be too prideful of my role but I have to understand my role in helping to direct the offensive line. It is important. It’s a tremendous responsibility. I am still taking it in stride. I am not perfect, not yet but it’s something I will continue to work at.”
RIDING THE ROLLERCOASTER
When Brown was a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, the Tar Heels were far from a national title contender. In fact, that team was in the midst of a two-year stretch in which it would win just five games.
Upon his arrival to the NFL, Brown had already run the gamut of emotions and dealt with the difficulties of struggling to win. In Baltimore, Brown got a taste of both ends of it, perhaps best exemplified by the stretch from 2006 to 2008 when the Ravens went from 13-3 to 5-11 to 11-5.
The rollercoaster that is football has perhaps not had a more frequent rider than Brown. And though anyone would prefer to be at the top of the hill for the majority of the time, Brown says it’s those experiences that have made him into the player and person he is today.
“I tell you what, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world,” Brown said. “I know a lot of people would say ‘Are you crazy? You’d rather be a loser than winner?’ no, I am not saying that. What I am saying is I gained so much wisdom and I learned so much from those losses and my failures. I learned more than I ever would have from winning.”
What, exactly, did Brown learn from those experiences? Quite a bit, actually.
Brown learned how to take the highs with the lows and to make sure that he prepares the same way each week regardless of outcome. That helped prepare him to take on a leadership role with the Rams, a team that has been on a rollercoaster ride of its own in recent years. Most of all, he gained perspective.
“The thing is I feel the situation I am in right now I am prepared for it because I have learned through past experiences how to handle adversity and how to handle situations like this,” Brown said.
It’s that perspective that causes him to make sure that even in the heat of the battle that every player on the field – even opponents – remember to have fun because they get to play a game for a living.
It’s the same reason he makes sure to take part in the prayer circle that immediately follows every game.
More than anything, it’s the reason he was the right player for the Rams at this time and, more important, the right choice to be the centerpiece of the offensive line and the locker room for years to come.
Re: Brown Embraces Role As Man In The Middle
It also helps that he's one of the league's biggest, if not the biggest, center. :D
I am very happy we got this guy. So far, he's been playing outstanding.
Re: Brown Embraces Role As Man In The Middle
Nice article, I really like this guy !