Attending and covering the 2018 Senior Bowl was a memorable experience for me in more ways than one. It was a groundbreaking learning experience for me, but something I was aware of going into Mobile, Alabama was how defensive lineman seemed to elevate themselves more than any other players during practices.
Whether it was Brandon Graham, Aaron Donald or even Jihad Ward, many pass-rushers have made money starting in a late-January week at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
To me, Andrew Brown made that impression that year. He looked like a man on a mission during practices and his performance during the game wasn’t half bad either. Brown wasn’t exactly a top prospect at the defensive tackle position, so his emergence put him on the map for me and many others.
In all honesty, the Brown pick was my favorite of that entire class because of the value I believed they got in selecting the former Virginia Cavaliers lineman with the 158th overall pick. So you could imagine how disappointed I was when he was injured for most of his first preseason and ultimately didn’t appear at all during regular season.
For how disheartening it was then, it was equally awesome to see him show out this past Saturday in the Bengals’ first preseason game against the Chiefs.
Brown was the best defender wearing orange and black in Kansas City who wasn’t also Darius Phillips. Throughout training camp, Brown has been used as an edge rusher and he really started turning it on in this game when he was moved inside to compensate for the loss of Christian Ringo, who left the game with a thumb injury.
Examining the difference between Brown’s play on the edge and inside is about as good of a topic I can think of for 2019’s first installment of The Weekly Lineman.
Going in chronological order here, Brown first got in on the action as the right defensive end for the second-string defense. Playing his run fit first, Brown then ensues to work around the edge as quarterback Chad Henne looks downfield. Left tackle Cameron Erving utilized a jump set to match Brown’s explosion off the snap, which is really the base of Brown’s game.
His quickness off the ball is a positive attribute no doubt, but he’s just not the guy who can so easily chop away the hands and bend around the edge outside of the pocket, as seen here. Erving manages to run him out of the play despite Brown’s best efforts.
That quick get-off isn’t going to do him much good if he can’t get inside hands and utilize a counter on the fly. On this play, losing his chest eliminated meant for Brown to try to chop away the outside hand of Erving so he can soften the edge outside. A weak chop meant Brown essentially wasn’t going anywhere and a lost rep occurs, even when the ball is delivered quickly.
Rushing off the left edge now, Brown’s explosion gets right tackle Pace Murphy lunging, which is a big no-no. Lunging your upper body only makes it easier for the pass rusher to get his hands on you quicker while also losing accuracy with your own hands, which is exactly the case here.
Brown uses a stab and swim combo to easily get past Murphy, and all he has to do is flatten around the arc for the sack. Unsurprisingly for a guy who’s listed at 290 pounds, he cannot and Henne escapes the pressure for a first down on the ground.
There’s a mixed bag when it comes to playing Brown on the edge. He’s not bad per se simply because he’s not a bad player in general. He’s got tools and an understanding of how to use them, but you wouldn’t want Geno Atkins rushing off the edge when there’s a B-gap for him to penetrate. Brown is the same way, and when Ringo was out of the picture, Brown filled in nicely.
You literally could not time the snap any better than this; and in Arrowhead Stadium for crying out loud! Not only is Brown by far the first one off the ball, he goes back to that stab and swim combo. By rotating his frame upwards, right guard (and former defensive tackle) Kahlil McKenzie has to react with his hands even quicker and he has zero chance of getting them cleanly on Brown.
Turning the corner is much easier to do so from the B-Gap compared to the C-gap and Brown is able to do so successfully this time for the sack.
Wow. Um, that’s incredible.
McKenzie, listed as 320 pounds, is no small human. To bull rush him to the dirt is no small feat and Brown’s explosion proves it can turn speed to power in extremely short distances. Because he fully committed to sending McKenzie to the planet’s core, Brown also kind of hits the deck but recovers quickly to try and disrupt the throw. That’s the sign of a quick-twitch athlete.
Gaining depth in run defense is fine as long as you maintain positioning in your run fit and are able to disengage when you need to. Brown effectively “resets the line of scrimmage” right at the point of attack and comes off his block with ease to make the tackle at the line.
Nothing’s more frustrating in football than underutilized talent. When Brown is aligned on the edge, his abilities aren’t maximized like when he’s at the 3-technique spot. Hopefully this tape tells defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and defensive line coach Nick Eason that Brown is best used as an interior defender, while still, having some value as an edge defender as well.
That value can give the coaching staff no choice but to keep him around for the regular season, for which they would be smart to do so.