Linebacker Brown gets big game from small frame

Friday, November 16, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 46

When the Tennessee Titans took Jayon Brown in the fifth round two years ago, there were two things that stood out about him.

One was his speed, which would give him a chance to play on third downs as a nickel linebacker at the NFL level. The other was his lack of size, which some scouts and evaluators thought would deny the former UCLA linebacker the chance to ever be much more than a situational player.

Brown, listed maybe somewhat generously at 6-0 and 226 pounds by the Titans, has been doing his best to shed that label of being only a situational player in the Tennessee defense this season.

Through nine games, Brown has been one of the steadiest players on the NFL’s best red zone defense, tying fellow undersized linebacker Wesley Woodyard for the team lead in solo tackles with 38.

Brown’s 55 overall tackles are second on the squad to Woodyard, and his 4.5 sacks is tops on the Titans defense, quite the accomplishment for an inside linebacker who still rotates some snaps with rookie first-round pick Rashaan Evans.

“My expectations for this year was just to improve on what I did last year and capitalize on opportunities in the games that come my way. So far, I’m doing that,” says Brown, who set his sights in the off-season on becoming more of a full-time player on the defense.

The label of being too small to play linebacker at a high level in the NFL doesn’t seem to bother Brown that much. He’s accustomed to people saying he is too small to excel as an inside linebacker, where hard-hitting thumpers are more the norm.

“I heard it all throughout the recruiting process from high school to college and the same here going from college to the league,” Brown says of being too small to be an every-down linebacker.

“It can motivate you, because size doesn’t matter. You’re more judged off your film and off your play. I feel like that for all the ‘little dudes’ out there, we’re just holding it down for each other.”

Even back at Long Beach Poly High in Southern California, where Brown turned into a three-star recruit who wound up at UCLA, there were times when he was tried at other than linebacker.

“I was probably 6-foot and about 185 to 190 pounds then,” he recalls. “I played a little safety in high school, and some running back sometimes.

“But that was just a shout out to my athleticism right there,” Brown adds, flashing a smile that suggests he’s only half-kidding.

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel says that one of the things that has made Brown, and his veteran mentor, Woodyard, so productive is that they are savvy enough to accentuate their strengths and play to those strengths within the system.

“Jayon (Brown) and Wood (Wesley Woodyard) have kind of figured out how they need to play with their body types or their size or their speed or what they have to work with,” Vrabel says.

With his play during a year and a-half in the Titans’ 3-4 defense, and with an expanded role in Dean Pees’ scheme, Brown is proving his point that size doesn’t matter nearly as much as what takes place on the field.

“For my play up to this point, I feel like I’m an every-down linebacker and I’ve displayed that on film,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to go every week and make the most out of my opportunities every time I go out on the field. It’s going good so far, I’ve just got to keep it up because we’re only halfway through the season.”

Vrabel admits Brown has maybe exceeded his initial expectations when he took over as head coach this year. But, Vrabel adds, Brown has been building ever since the off-season program began.

“He started off and had a good spring,” the rookie coach explains. “It all started with that, and he’s continued to work and develop and has done some good things. We’ll continue to expand his role and what we do and how we can help us.

“He’s a big part of our defense and hopefully, he continues to develop.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for