Preston: Another 'Zeus,' Orlando Brown Jr., could be headed to Baltimore in NFL draft

Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. gets a little emotional when it is mentioned that he could become the first-round draft pick of the Ravens in about two months.

The voice starts to crack, and then he laughs.

While the new team was growing up in Baltimore in the mid 1990s, Brown was growing up with the Ravens.

“My dad was a leader on that team, well-respected,” Brown said about his father, Orlando Sr., who started for six years for the Ravens. “I grew up with that franchise, hung around the original Ravens. It was a blessing to be around players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jamal Lewis, Jeff Blackshear and Wally Williams.”

“If I ended up going to Baltimore, that would be very special,” Brown said. “If I was drafted in the first round anywhere, my dad would be very proud of me. It is something I wanted and talked to him about. It is something he wanted for me. A first-round pick? I am sure he would be happy.”

Orlando Brown Sr., easily the most menacing, intimidating offensive player in team history, died Sept. 23, 2011, from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment common among diabetics and caused by high blood sugar and lack of insulin.

But he lives on in his son. The father was 6 feet 7 and 360 pounds. The son is 6-8 and weighs 345. Running around the broad-shouldered father was like running around the world. The son is longer and leaner. Neither was or is a technician, though the younger Brown appears to have a better sense of the game.

The elder Brown was an undrafted rookie out of South Carolina State in the lowly Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, while the son has started 40 out of 40 games for Oklahoma and is listed as one of the top three tackles in the college draft along with Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey and Texas’ Connor Williams.

Some publications have Brown going to the Ravens with the No. 16 overall pick in NFL draft.

“My dad was a dog,” Brown said of his father, whose nickname was “Zeus.” “He was big, physical and mean. He was very good with his hands, especially in pass protection. Body-wise we don’t compare in some ways because I am longer than him; I have longer arms. At this point, I think I do a good job of using my body and angles as far as blocking ends and outside linebackers.”

But he struggles in the same areas as his father. At Oklahoma, Brown came out of a two-point stance more than a three. The pass protection always seemed to slide to him more on the left than on the right, so there are questions about his leverage in running plays and being able to handle speed rushers on the outside.

Some draft experts are projecting him more as a right tackle than a left. If the Ravens drafted Brown, he would play on the right with third-year player Ronnie Stanley staying on the left side.

The elder Brown was a mauler who knocked opposing players off the ball. As former teammate and defensive end Rob Burnett once said, “if he got into your body on a running play, you might as well have gone back to the huddle.”

“I would say there is a ton of room for improvement,” Brown Jr. said about his own game. “A lot of things I do look slow, but that’s just the way I’ve been taught, that’s the way I go about it. But my focus isn’t to worry about if I go in the first round or which team drafts me, but to keep grinding and be the best player I can be.”

His father was a grinder, a self-made player who put in an incredible amount of time in the training and weight rooms. Brown Jr. has a similar routine, working out six to seven hours a day with Proactive Sports in California.

He’ll head to the NFL scouting combine, which begins early next month in Indianapolis. Brown was named the Big 12’s top offensive lineman the past two years and was a unanimous All-America pick. Regardless of any shortcomings, he has an enormous upside just on sheer size alone, as well as athleticism.

And he is still driven by his father. He acknowledges that his dad was tough and pushed him because Brown Sr. grew up on the tough streets in Washington. The father wanted the son to have a better life but a similar toughness.

When the younger Brown was in the sixth grade, he already was 6-1 and weighed 315 pounds.

“I was a fat kid, sloppy,” Brown said. “But he pushed me hard, very hard. I was scared of him until I got a little order and figured out what he was doing. By the time I was in the eighth grade, I had committed to football and really knew what I wanted to do.”

He was only 15 when he learned of his father’s death. Brown Sr. was only 40 years old.

“Obviously, I was young, but not a baby,” Brown said. “You can’t prepare for those moments in life. My father did a great job of preparing us for what would happen when he died and taught us how to learn and live. My dad didn’t teach me much about football, but he taught me a lot about being mentally tough.”

Brown Jr. wore his dad’s old No. 78 number at Oklahoma. On draft day, he expects his father’s spirit to be with him, his mother, Mira, and his two younger sisters and brothers.

He says he hasn’t spoken to some of his dad’s old linemates, such as Ogden, Williams and Blackshear, in years but his mind often drifts back to those days as a youth in Ravens training camp. He also thinks about what it would be like to walk into the locker room that was once his father’s.

“Yeah, that would be special,” he said, laughing.

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