Senior Bowl: Brown showcasing his talents

MOBILE, Ala. — Grady Brown doesn't get time during the NFL season to step up and coach defensive linemen on what his thoughts are on how they should do their job. But Tuesday, the Steelers' defensive backs coach spent plenty of time with the National Team defensive front running them through drills and explaining what it was he wanted from them.

When you're serving as a defensive coordinator instead of a position coach as Brown is for the National Team at the Senior Bowl, you're responsible for the entire defense from front to back. And that gave Brown an opportunity to show he's not just a defensive backs coach. He can handle an entire unit, as well.

"It was fun," Brown said Tuesday after completing his first practice here at Hancock Whitney Stadium on the campus of South Alabama University.

"Obviously, we just finished our season not too long ago and I was kind of looking forward to getting away from the game a little bit and resting. But I can honestly say it was fun to get back into it and get football back on my mind and get a chance to teach the game and interact with the coaches and players."

For the first time in its 74-year history, the coaching staffs for the two squads will not be entirely from two NFL franchises. For example, last year, the coaching staff of the New York Jets had one squad, while the Detroit Lions' coaching staff handled the other. This year, there are coaches representing 16 different NFL franchises. Brown and Steelers assistant outside linebackers coach Denzel Martin were nominated by the team and chosen for the National Team coaching staff. Martin is serving as Brown's outside linebackers coach this week.

Lolley is a Contributing Writer/Editor and co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. His opinions do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.

Subscribe to the "SNR Drive" podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

Needless to say, they're getting an opportunity to see the players on the practice field, but also in the meeting rooms. And that's a big deal when it comes to evaluating not only what kind of person the player might be, but how quickly they can learn and interact in the classroom.

"I think it's priceless. It's a hands-on opportunity," Brown said. "We're coaching them. We're coaching them the same way we would coach them in Pittsburgh. Other guys are coaching the same way they would be coached with their other teams. We get a chance to assess how well or how fast they process information. It's really priceless. It's awesome."

Brown has been with the Steelers the past two seasons as secondary coach, joining them in 2021 after a lengthy stint in college football where he either served as defensive coordinator or defensive backs coach at the University of Houston (2021), McNeese State (2020). Old Dominion (2019), Louisville (2018), Alabama State (2017), Birmingham Southern (2016), South Carolina (2012-15), Southern Miss (2010-2011 and Alabama State (2002-2007). He also coached linebackers at Alabama A&M in 2001.

But he does have a desire to become a defensive coordinator again someday, and this setting offers him an opportunity to do so.

The NFL pushed for the Senior Bowl to change its format from single-team staffs to split staffs for just that reason — to offer young coaches the opportunity to showcase their talents.

"That was a call by the league office," Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said Tuesday. "I was taken off guard a little bit with a call in June. You just deal with it. We've dealt with a lot the in the last five years since I've been here — a stadium move, COVID, trying to pull a game off fully bubbled. So, the coaching staff thing, it's nothing we would have proactively done, but it's not just a great opportunity for our players, I think it's a great opportunity for the coaches, too.

"Not only are the eyeballs of key decision-makers on the players, it's also on those guys."

That's how Brown is approaching the week.

He knows he'll be in front of not just his own head coach, Mike Tomlin, and general manager, Omar Khan, but the decision-makers for all 32 franchises.

"Absolutely it's an opportunity," he said. "Mike T was down here and there were other head coaches. Our GM, Omar is here. So, certainly it's an opportunity for coaches to be evaluated. It's a job interview for all of us. And that's what I told the players. They'll get our best effort, for sure, because we're all being evaluated."

That said, the all-star game format doesn't lend itself to doing too much. Offenses and defenses have limits to what kind of plays they can run. They can't get too exotic.

It's all about giving the players a taste of what NFL coaching looks like and then seeing how quickly they can process it and take it to the field.

That made coming up with practice plans pretty simple for Brown.

"The big thing is making it simple," he said. "A lot of terminology is complicated. We want to stress the athletes, but we want them to be able to come out and function and get lined up. The deal was to make it simple, but still have some NFL terminology so they can learn it in two or three days and then go out and execute it. It wasn't difficult."

Who knows? If he does a good enough job, perhaps that call will come in the near future regarding an opportunity to get more exotic, whether that be with the Steelers or another franchise.

That's an opportunity Brown would embrace.

"Definitely," he said. "After being in the NFL for two years now and getting a better handle on the game and seeing what our game is about, I believe have the talent to be a coordinator at some point in my career. Right now, it's just about doing the best job I can do as with the position that I have, trying to make sure everybody is reaching their potential as a player. I believe that is my job as a coach. Everything else will take care of itself."

TOMLIN'S INFLUENCE: As one of the longest-tenured coaches in the NFL, there's no question Tomlin has an impact not just on his own players, but others, as well.

Tuesday, Georgia Tech defensive lineman Keion White was speaking with reporters following the National Team practice and dropped a reference to Tomlin when talking about his ability to play both outside on the edge and inside at defensive tackle.

It's kind of like Mike T said, 'Your best ability is availability.' So, if I'm available all across the board, that should help," White said matter of factly.

Wait, the 24-year-old is quoting Tomlinisms?

"He's been out at practice, so I was bouncing ideas off him a little bit," White said.

White measured in at 6-foot-4 and 6/8ths and weighed in at 280 pounds at the Senior Bowl and has played both on the edge and at defensive tackle in his time at Old Dominion before transferring to Georgia Tech in 2021.

He began his career at tight end at Old Dominion, but moved to defensive end in 2019 and had 62 tackles and 3.5 sacks. After a COVID season in 2020, an ankle injury sidelined him for most of 2021, but he emerged in 2022 to record 54 tackles, including a team-best 14 for a loss, and 7.5 sacks.

"The injuries have made me become a better player in refining my technique instead of relying on my athleticism and just learning the game a little bit more," White said.

MEASURING UP: Ohio State offensive lineman Dawand Jones made a big impression before even setting foot on the field here.

Jones measured in officially at 6-foot-8, with 11 3/8-inch hands, 36 5/8-inch arms and an 89 1/2-inch wingspan.

According to Nagy, Jones' wingspan is that of someone who is 7-foot-5 and is the largest in Senior Bowl history.

Jones also weighed in at 375 pounds, the heaviest of any player here.

Related Content