An offensive lineman at the Division I level must play with technique, and have knowledge of the intricacies of an offense. It requires putting your nose in your playbook and becoming acquainted with the calls by other linemen and audibles by the quarterback.
For sophomore Jamon Brown, a 6-foot-4 massive structure, it didn’t quite go that way for his first collegiate start at offensive guard.
Brown was brought into fall camp as a defensive lineman and worked the first four games at defensive tackle. However, with injuries and a lack of depth on the offensive line, Brown switched to offensive guard about six practices before making his first start on the offensive line.
The Tar Heels featured one of the nation’s best defensive lines with a number of projected NFL draft choices. It wasn’t quite an advantageous position to put a true freshman in, who literally had a week of practice at a new position to prepare for his first career start. Sure it happens in high school, where guys change positions all the time, but not at that level where defensive linemen run 4.6 in the 40-yard dash and weigh in, at times, at over 300 pounds.
Brown made his first collegiate start in a 14-7 loss to the Tar Heels, and the true freshman certainly didn’t embarrass himself in any fashion. The Cardinals were stifled by a tough UNC defense. The offense had its chances to score, but was held in check with a couple of early missed field goals.
Coming into spring practice, Brown has been penciled in as the leader at left tackle, and the coaching staff feels that Brown has the ability to be a special type of offensive player for the Cardinals. However, Brown is still very raw and recognizes that he has a long way to go to get better.
“I think I have progressed, but I still have a lot to work on,” Brown said. “I was basically thrown to the wolves last year, and was going on what I learned in high school. From then to now, I’ve learned a lot more in terms of the offense and technique. What has really helped me is being able to go through spring practice and winter workouts. We had a lot of time to learn technique and learning the offense. Learning the offense was what really held me back technique wise.”
His offensive line coach, Dave Borbely, recognizes the talent and the ability that Brown possesses, and has seen a lot of progress with him physically, but Borbely is focusing on getting Brown to be an every-down player.
“He has made a lot of progress and he should. He played quite a bit for us last year,” Borbely said. “He came over eight practices as an offensive lineman. He started against North Carolina against a veteran group and some pretty good players. He is our most talent guy in terms of raw ability. In terms of mental toughness and being able to go hard for 70-75 snaps, that’s an area we have to work on and build on. He wants to be a great player and he is working to do that. We have a long way to go with him, but we have a pretty good start with him.”
It goes without saying that Brown has all the physical tools to be a special athlete for the Cardinals this season. Even at his size, weighing 340 pounds, Brown is an athlete. He runs well and is learning to become more physical. But what people don’t understand is that there a huge mental aspect of the game.
“I have to get tougher mentally,” Brown said. “I want to be a guy who can go 70 plays and not get tired, and be like it’s the first play. This spring, I’m focused on being mentally tough. I want to come out to practice with a positive attitude and coming out with an attitude that I’m going to work hard. I make sure that I don’t take reps off.”
The focus on the offensive line last year was youth and inexperience. The Cardinals had to replace four starters with guys who hadn’t played much football, and it showed at times with freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater running for his life. This year, the Cardinals are experienced with four starters returning and the focus is keeping their talented quarterback in the pocket and upright.
“Last year, our problem was pass protection,” Brown said. “We were young, but it’s not an excuse. We have focused on that this spring, but we do focus on the running game as well. If we can protect Teddy, we can do good things on offense.”
The Cardinals had their first scrimmage of the spring last Saturday and the offense did a lot of good things in the running and passing games. The Cardinals received good production from all the backs, but it was the offensive line that paved the way for the backs and gave Bridgewater the opportunity to get the ball down the field.
“He (Dave Borbely) said he saw a lot of good things,” Brown said. “We didn’t have a lot of mental errors. We held up pretty good protection-wise. We started off slow. We have to pick it up about going hard on every play. We just have to finish on every play. Our strength is the run game. Being able to come off the ball that is something we do very well. The running backs are taking coaching well from coach Carter and they are hitting the holes.”