When the Ravens back in April traded up in the second round to draft Arthur Brown, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta remarked that Brown would be a “four-down linebacker” for the Ravens. For now, though, the rookie has been a one-down linebacker, playing on the defense mostly in passing situations.
While a pair of rookies -- first-round safety Matt Elam and undrafted wide receiver Marlon Brown -- have stepped into starting roles, Brown is taking baby steps for the Ravens, who have handed the 23-year-old a small but significant role while giving snaps to two other players, Jameel McClain and Josh Bynes, at the weak-side linebacker position.
Brown has been playing alongside middle linebacker Daryl Smith in the nickel package, where the Ravens can best utilize his speed, athleticism and cover skills. Brown has played 142 snaps on defense including plays negated by penalties, according to Pro Football Focus. He has dropped into coverage on 90 of those plays and has blitzed on 35 of them. He has had to defend the run on just 17 of the plays.
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“It’s going well. It’s definitely a role-playing season for me,” Brown said Wednesday. “From a team perspective, we all have roles as a player and we have to value our roles. Right now, I’m just excited about our future as a team and my role here.”
Brown, who has the speed to run with running backs and athletic tight ends, has been targeted just 10 times in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. He has been beaten for just five catches for 44 yards, the longest gain being an 11-yard reception by Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard two weeks ago.
Brown, who has officially recorded one half of a sack this season, has generated pressure on 20 percent of his snaps as a pass rusher, according to Pro Football Focus, who has credited him with two quarterback hits and five hurries this season.
“I agree with where the coaches are placing me,” Brown said of his role. “They are narrowing my focus and that’s definitely helping me be a better role player.”
Brown is typically one of the last players to leave the facility every night. His favorite restaurant might as well be the team’s cafeteria, and after many teammates have left the building, Brown can often be found watching film, working out in the weight room or doing exercises on a mat in an empty basketball court.
“He reminds me of Torrey Smith in a lot of ways,” coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “We were just talking with him about that after practice. He comes to work every single day with one thing in mind, and that is to improve. He doesn’t let his energy by misdirected in any way. It is focused on getting better as a football player and being the best he can be.”
For now, Brown, who is also a core player on special teams, isn’t worrying about a larger role that is sure to come in the future, though he knows the importance of staying engaged in practice and in the meeting rooms in case injuries unexpectedly push him into an every-down role. He is honing in on his role in the nickel package, knowing that is what is needed from him to help the team win now.
The Ravens are pleased with the contributions they are getting from Brown, who has 10 tackles, and they still believe he will one day be that every-down linebacker.
“Arthur in the nickel-role linebacker spot has done a really good job,” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to be an excellent football player. He’s on his way.”