Ravens offensive lineman Orlando Brown Jr. has worked hard to honor his late father Orlando Brown Sr. on the field, from the bandana he wears around his head to taking on his father’s brash playing style.
But dating to Brown’s days of youth football in the suburbs of Baltimore, another Ravens tackle, Jonathan Ogden, was also the template for an NFL career.
“Growing up in my household, if you were going to play O-line, my dad didn’t want you being on the right side,” Brown recalled in a recent phone interview.
“It was one of those deals where he felt as though the right tackle — and especially at the time when he played — he felt the right tackle was not considered the best tackle on the offensive line and in the offensive line room. And his mentality and approach was, ‘I want you to be better than me.’ So from Day 1, when I started playing offensive line, it was always him working me on the left side.”
The means by which Brown moved from right tackle to left tackle this season, Ronnie Stanley’s season-ending ankle injury on Nov. 1, have stung Brown and the entire Ravens offense. But it’s also been a full-circle moment for the 24-year-old who grew up around the organization as a young child.
Brown chuckled at the thought of the player he once was in his early teenage years. He had finally been given the OK to play organized football in middle school as his father finally succumbed to his pleads.
“I wasn’t good enough to really be on the field much,” Brown said.
The elder Brown was demanding as it pertained to the type of player his namesake would become — and where it would be.
“I remember him telling my high school coach at DeMatha [Catholic High School], ‘If he can’t play left tackle, put him on defense,” Brown joked. “My freshman year of high school, they didn’t feel like I could play left tackle so they put me at defensive tackle.”
A shell of the player he would be in the years to come, Brown wasn’t given the luxury to sit idly and slowly develop the requisite skills to play left tackle.
The elder Brown had his son, already a 300-pound freshman, practice with the DeMatha wrestling team “Monday through Saturday.” It was something the younger Brown was told his father’s former teammates, Ray Lewis and Kelly Gregg, did and would help in understanding body movements and leverage.
“He just had to grow into his body. He was a manchild as an eighth-grader,” said Bill McGregor, longtime varsity football coach at DeMatha.
“His dad understood what it was going to take. ... Somebody like Orlando, it wasn’t going to be a sprint, it was going to be a marathon in terms of his development. And that’s basically what happened. Each year of him playing football, he got better and better and better. You could see a great development from his freshman year to his sophomore year. Then he had to leave and did really well down in Georgia. He was highly recruited and even watching him play college football, you could see him getting better year by year.”
After his father’s death in 2011, Brown moved with his family to a suburb in Georgia and continued playing football at Peachtree Ridge High School. As a junior, he threw discus and shot put, a sport his father once said helped Ogden with his footwork.
At the University of Oklahoma, Brown had a standout career, twice being named Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year and receiving All-America honors as a redshirt junior.
And despite his disastrous scouting combine performance in 2018 and questions about whether he had the athleticism to be a left tackle in the NFL, Brown said the majority of the teams he spoke with had confidence in him remaining there. When he returned to Baltimore as a third-round pick, it just wasn’t a necessity with Stanley, a top-10 pick from 2016, already cemented as the franchise left tackle.
Brown served as a fill-in at left tackle in Week 4 against the Washington Football Team when Stanley was sidelined with a shoulder injury before returning to the post permanently after Stanley was carted off in the Week 8 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Two years removed from routinely lining up at left tackle, Brown said the move back to his original position “hasn’t been easy.” With football players being creatures of habit, there have been notable adjustments, physical and mental, which Brown described as “the mechanics of everything and processing it in your brain backward ... using the opposite muscles that you would use on certain plays.”
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However, Brown’s transition to protect quarterback Lamar Jackson’s blindside in recent weeks has been an otherwise bright spot on an offensive line that has been marred by injuries and inconsistent play and could see another shakeup ahead of Sunday’s home game against the Tennessee Titans.
“Orlando is a natural-born left tackle, that’s where his home base is,” said tight end Mark Andrews, who played alongside Brown at Oklahoma. “So, when you think about even when he got to the league, he had to make that transition to playing right [tackle]. And I know for him, it was a little different — being able to make that transition. So, just being able to see him play left, it’s like he never missed a snap. He’s been playing some great ball and really doing a great job on that left side. It’s been fun to see.”
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