Orlando Brown Jr. was the first to step to the mic at the Ravens’ rookie minicamp Friday afternoon, and it would have been easy to mistake him for his father from afar. Brown wore a purple No. 78 jersey, as the late Orlando Sr. did over his final two seasons in Baltimore, and before answering any questions had his microphone raised a good 6 or so inches, the better to accommodate his 6-foot-8 frame.
Brown, 22, talked about his disastrous NFL scouting combine, the accompanying fall to the third round of the draft, how slow he was and how proud he was to be a Raven. But mostly he talked about his father. Brown said his “biggest wish” is that Orlando Sr. were still here, watching over him. But Orlando Sr., he acknowledged, had wished his son would look elsewhere for hulking role models.
“Growing up, man, he preached to me: Be more like Jonathan Ogden than me as far as the game,” Brown said.
With 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley seemingly entrenched as the Ravens’ left tackle of the future, Brown will have to be more like Ogden, the Ravens’ Hall of Fame lineman drafted the same year Brown was born (1996), on the right side of the line. With the release of incumbent starting right tackle Austin Howard, the position battle could come down to Brown and James Hurst, who made all but one of his 16 starts last season at left guard. (The other came at left tackle, in place of an injured Stanley.)
Over three seasons as a starter at Oklahoma, Brown left no doubt as to his ability to manhandle Big 12 Conference challengers. He allowed just 15 quarterback pressures — two sacks, two hits and 11 hurries — on 793 pass-blocking snaps over his last two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus, earning unanimous All-American honors last year. “Physical, tough, mean, nasty, didn’t get beat,” Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said of Brown last week.
But his combine raised questions that hadn’t been considered and made headlines no prospect — certainly no first-round talent, as Brown had been considered — wants to see. He later told ESPN that on the bench press, he’d planned to hold his breath during the first 10 repetitions of 225 pounds, a strategy not considered best practice in strength training. After the fourth rep, he started breathing, and finished with just 14 total, fewest of any offensive lineman at the combine.
Brown clocked in at 5.85 seconds In the 40-yard dash and 5.38 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle, the worst of the combine and tied for the worst of the combine, respectively. His 82-inch broad jump and 19.5-inch vertical jump were lows for linemen, too.
USA Today called the showing "historically bad." ESPN said he'd blown the "biggest job interview of his life." Bleacher Report wondered: "Did Orlando Brown just have the worst combine performance of all time?"
“It’s tough. He has one bad day. Obviously, you see his Pro Day was a lot better,” said tight end Mark Andrews, a teammate of Brown’s at Oklahoma and now a fellow Ravens rookie. Brown himself didn’t point Friday to his Pro Day numbers as a defense against his admittedly “surprising” combine flop, but Andrews isn’t wrong. Brown cut his 40 time by more than two-tenths of a second (5.63), improved both his broad jump and vertical leap by over 5½ inches and posted 18 reps on the bench press.
“The guy is a dog,” Andrews said. “He is a beast. He should have been a first-round guy, no doubt. But he is where he is. Now he’s got to make the best of what he’s got. He’s going to thrive. I’m excited for the Ravens flock to see what he’s all about, but he’s a tenacious player and he’s going to get after it.”
The night Brown was drafted, he joked during a teleconference with Baltimore media about his childhood memories of the Ravens: all the times Ed Reed wouldn’t practice, his father’s on-field skirmishes with defensive teammates (“But you couldn’t touch Ray Lewis,” he pointed out), training camp at McDaniel. “It just goes on,” he said.
The legacy of that football life is apparent in his upbringing. While Orlando Sr. started out as a defensive lineman at South Carolina State, Orlando Jr. was raised to be like the tackle his father became. “My dad forced me to learn it,” he said. Brown studied Ogden, of course, but also Hall of Famers such as Anthony Muñoz and Jackie Slater, whose heydays had preceded even his father’s arrival in the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
“Obviously, everybody knows I'm slow. I mean, I'm not the fastest guy. Half of y'all probably could beat me running, honestly,” he said. “Mentally, I don't think there's anyone out there that understands the game or understands and is more instinctual than me.”
Brown also knows what still must me done. Listed at 345 pounds on the official roster, he said he’s down to 340, with another 15 pounds still to shed. Minicamp so far has been all about the basics: the offense the Ravens run, the rookies he hasn’t met, the names of people around the team’s headquarters. “The ones that I don’t know,” he corrected himself, because of course he knows general manager Ozzie Newsome.
Upon the 2011 death of Brown’s father, at age 40, Newsome had said of Orlando Sr.: “There was no better friend, no one more loyal than ‘Zeus’ was to his teammates and those in the Ravens.” When he visited with the Ravens in the pre-draft process, Brown left Newsome a note. Brown pledged to Newsome that if the Ravens drafted him, it would be “something very special,” the GM recalled last week.
When the Ravens did take him, at No. 83 overall, he asked Newsome over the phone whether the selection was for real. A week later, it still all seemed too good to be true.
“Very surreal. Very surreal,” he said. “Like I said before, man, it's such a blessing to be here and be around these people and put on this purple jersey.”