The average age of the Bengals’ 11 linebackers (including currently unsigned Germaine Pratt) is 23.36. Preston Brown’s age of 26 gives that average a nice boost.
Like maturity, leadership is not something that’s automatically developed with age. It’s a quality that must be sought out for and properly harnessed. Even in football, the MIKE linebacker doesn’t have to be the primary leader of a defense for the unit to succeed. But under the current circumstances, Brown isn’t looking at someone else to step up and assume headship of the group.
“I’m looking to take the next step as a leader,” Brown told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “If I see something that’s wrong, it’s not just, ‘It’s all right.’ I have to say it. I just can’t let stuff go. You build bigger problems. It can’t be, ‘If I do the right thing, maybe they’ll see it kind of thing.’ I have to be the vocal leader as well. It’s the perfect time for me.”
Brown joined the Bengals last season when long-time veterans Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey were still staples of the roster. Burfict had been the epicenter of on-field direction for the defense for years and Rey had donned the captain’s patch on the jersey for a while at the time. Now that both are out the door, Brown, who signed a three-year deal this offseason, is the logical heir to lead the linebackers and the defense as a whole. But he knew when to look for guidance to begin.
Last week, Brown reached out to Wayne Box Miller, the main host of the Bengals Radio Network and former player of the team, took out the rest of current linebackers for dinner at Cincinnati’s Montgomery Inn Boat House. Also invited were Miller’s former teammate Joe Kelly and Brown’s farther, Mike Brown, who has had a small taste of the NFL himself.
“Nine days,” Brown said about how long his dad was at a Denver Broncos’ training camp. “And then you’ve got a guy like Joe who played 11 years and had a great career. Two different perspectives.”
Kelly, who has lived in Cincinnati since his retirement in 1997, appreciated the evening with Brown and his teammates, and knows this part of Brown’s career is more than just about what’s going on between the white lines.
“It’d be a great story for Preston,” Kelly says. “Coming home and all that. A great ending. You don’t hear about great endings a lot anymore.”
Kelly made a positive impression on more than just Brown, though.
“Take care of your body. Have to take care of your body,” said Nick Vigil. “You see a guy like Joe who played so long and when he talks to you, you’re going to listen. The guy behind him making a million more? He told some great stories and you can tell how much he loved the game.”
Mike Brown’s career didn’t last nearly as long as the career his son is carving out, now in their hometown, but he knows that the steps Preston is taking right now will help him after he hangs up his own cleats.
“Everybody doesn’t make it as long as they want to,” (Mike) Brown says. “Once we go on after football, there have to be other things that make you happy. I’ve seen it my whole life.”
The Bengals expressed their confidence in Brown this offseason, now he’s trying to return the favor. Leading the position group with the biggest unknown assets on the roster, it will take monumental effort to lead them down the right path. Luckily, it seems that Brown is more than prepped to do so.