Brown proving he belongs with Bengals
It’s just the normal course of action for a running back who was a college star but had to earn the trust of his coaches before being handed the ball in the National Football League.
“You have to show that you can operate – run the right route, block the right person, run the right direction, show what you can do in protections, run down on kickoff,” Brown said this week as his team was preparing to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday. “I just tried to give my all and know it’s going to stack up and lead to something greater.”
That something greater arrived three weeks ago when Brown began to see his playing time increase after being activated from injured reserve, where he was recovering from a hamstring injury.
In the three games since, all Bengal wins, Brown has accumulated 217 all-purpose yards – 109 on the ground and 108 through the air – using the burst of speed that made him a star at the University of Illinois and a fifth-round pick in last April’s draft.
“The game is a lot faster,” Brown said of adjusting to the NFL. “At first you’re learning and walking on glass a little bit. But getting confidence, that’s when I play freely and can show what I can do to be an explosive player.”
Brown brilliantly demonstrated that aspect of his game on a 54-yard catch and run against Indianapolis on Dec. 10, his first NFL touchdown and a play that landed on highlight shows for days.
“I caught the screen and I just saw space,” Brown said. “It had been a while since I really got to open up and put the burners on and show that I can finish those plays if you put me in space. It was a surreal moment, but I want more.
“I didn’t have a celebration; I wasn’t going to let go of that ball. You can only dream of a moment like that.”
The play demonstrated more than Brown’s speed. He showed his agility with a cut he made near the goal line, not to mention an ability to catch the football and then transition smoothly into a runner.
With 58 catches in his final season at Illinois, it’s a skill the 23-year-old continues to hone with the Bengals.
“I work on my hands every single day,” said Brown. “I’m just trying to do my job, be versatile, and do it all to show you have value. I want to show I can be a threat running or receiving, however that opportunity comes.”
Brown said his first touchdown has been far from the only surreal moment this season. In fact, they come every week when he starts to prepare for the Bengals’ next opponent and his eyes come across the names of players he used to watch on TV when he was in high school.
Those high school years were critical for Brown and his twin brother, Sydney, who spent their first two years at London South before two years at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Bradenton, Fla.
Brown remains close to coaches at both schools and has had his London and St. Stephen’s head coaches in attendance for Bengals games in successive weeks.
Those visits were very meaningful for Brown, who maintains strong ties to those who helped him and Sydney reach college and, ultimately, the NFL.
“It shows that those relationships you build in football aren’t just football-related,” Brown said. “Those are men who helped develop me into the man I am today and have investments in me that are about so much more than football. We talk about life.
“I get to share these experiences with them. Great people who are willing to travel from Canada and Florida to see me play.”
Brown’s success this season has been matched on the defensive side of the ball by Sydney, a safety, who has played an important role this season in the Philadelphia Eagles secondary.
The two, who played together at every level of football until the NFL, have maintained a close relationship this season without sharing any trade secrets.
“Every single day we call or just check in,” said Brown. “We just keep football out of it. We talk about what’s going on in our lives.”
Those lives have been busy since their paths hit a fork in the road last April, with their careers taking them in different directions. Those paths might take both brothers into the NFL playoffs.
The Eagles (10-4) have clinched an NFC playoff spot, while the Bengals (8-6) remain in a battle for an AFC wild-card spot.
And over the course of the past month, Brown has proven he belongs in the NFL.“There’s so much to get better at, so much to build on,” Brown said. “I’m very grateful for where I am in life. It’s my dream. I didn’t want to do anything else in this life, so I couldn’t put it any other way. I love what I do, and I want to do it for a very long time.”