In two disappointing seasons during which snaps on defense have been few and questions about his progress have been many, Ravens inside linebacker Arthur Brown has learned it serves no purpose to dwell on his own situation.
Of course, he badly wants to be on the field and have a regular role on the Ravens' defense. He desperately wants to show the form that prompted the Ravens to trade up in the second round of the NFL draft and select him out of Kansas State just two years ago. But he understands that the two guys ahead of him — Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley — are pretty good, too.
"Honestly, approaching it with a selfish mindset, it can be tough," Brown said Tuesday. "Me trying to get mine, me being out there trying to gain, succeed where I would like to succeed and be where I want to be, it does drain you. It does get tough. That's why every day I have to come out here with a mindset and a focus on the team."
Perceived to be playing for a spot on the 53-man roster, Brown has had an uneven summer. At one point early in training camp, he was a third-team inside linebacker, not just behind Smith and Mosley, but also behind Zachary Orr and Albert McClellan, two players known for their work on special teams.
In recent weeks, Brown has been a second-team inside linebacker and his spike in defensive and special teams snaps — both in practices and preseason games — suggest the Ravens are trying to figure out where the 25-year-old fits in.
"Arthur has really come on," coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday. "We played him a lot. We played him with the ones a lot. We played him with the twos a lot. And he's flashed a number of times [with his] athletic ability. As hard as he worked in camp, I think really he'll play faster in the regular season because he's just so quick, so explosive of a player."
In three preseason games, Brown has played 104 defensive snaps and 38 snaps on special teams. In the preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints, Brown didn't play his first defensive snap until very late in the third quarter, an ominous sign at the time, considering most of the defensive starters were out after one or two drives.
However, Brown has gotten earlier action in the past two games. In the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, he played 57 defensive snaps. With Harbaugh announcing Tuesday that his starters won't play at all in Thursday's preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons and just 43 players will be in uniform, Brown should be in line to play a lot, if not the whole game.
"I really approach it like any other game, a great opportunity for me to showcase and contribute to this team while I'm still here," said Brown, who is second on the team to Orr with 15 tackles this preseason. He also has one sack.
Harbaugh was noncommittal when asked if Brown is on the proverbial "bubble" with the organization needing to cut their roster from 75 to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday.
"I can't say right now. Nothing is written in stone," Harbaugh said. "You look at the numbers, you do the count and you're going to go, 'OK, what's it going to be?' That's for us to decide at the end. … But I know one thing, he's certainly good enough to be on our team and contribute for us."
The Ravens hate giving up on their high draft picks early and the reality is, although he's struggled in limited action and failed to develop into a core special teams player, Brown really has not gotten an extended opportunity to play in games.
He played 14 games as a rookie, working primarily on third downs. However, the combination of the Ravens drafting Mosley in the first round last year and Smith staying healthy cemented Brown to the sideline. Brown was active for just four games in 2014 and didn't play a defensive snap.
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"He's kind of in a tough spot," Harbaugh said. "He's sitting there behind two really good linebackers. Daryl Smith is the most underrated linebacker in football, without question. I'll stand on that all day long. And C.J. Mosley, obviously, we all know that he's one of the best young linebackers in football, if not the best. That's where Arthur is at. Of course, Albert has a role and Zach has a role. And they do such a great job on special teams. But Arthur is in that mix. He's done very well and I expect him to have a really good year."
Brown was a tackling machine at Kansas State, posting at least 100 total tackles in both his junior and senior seasons. He was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. However, the NFL has proven to be a tough transition.
His size has been an issue — he's just 6 feet and 240 pounds and has had a hard time putting on weight — and he's also struggled to grasp defensive and special teams assignments. He's also missed time with injuries, a chest ailment keeping him out for a couple of games in 2013 and a hamstring injury ending his season last year. But Brown maintains that nothing has held him back.
"Honestly, I think it's been a progression," he said. "I don't think it's been a negative. In my outlook, it's a positive. I haven't reached and gotten to where I need to be, but we've had guys that have stepped up and fulfilled that role. So as a team, we've taken steps and we've progressed, but as an individual, I'm a part of this team so I take it as a positive and I just try to develop and improve every day.
"There's been a lot of investment, a lot of work on my part, no doubt. I feel that there's a lot that I need to do, a lot of work that needs to be done on my part as far as progressing and being the great player that I need to be. I'm continuing to work every day, and hopefully it happens."