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Derrick Brown ready to build on rookie success


CHARLOTTE — Derrick Brown's rookie season was a solid one.

But he's expecting more than solid out of himself, and hoping to provide more for the Panthers in year number two.

The 2020 first-round pick only had two sacks last season, though that doesn't accurately describe the pressure he got on quarterbacks, particularly late in the year. He had 12 quarterback hits on the season, but nine of them came in the last six weeks.

"I feel like I was more efficient as a pass-rusher than people thought I was," Brown said. "I think my biggest thing is to be a complete DT and do everything I can to help this defense."

Brown was never a big sack guy in college either, with 12.5 in four years at Auburn. But he also created consistent pressure while taking up a lot of space there, and that's why the Panthers chose him in the first round to serve as a foundation for their rebuilding job on defense.

Derrick Brown

The lack of back-of-the-football-card numbers also doesn't indicate his value to the defense. He played 70 percent of the defensive snaps on the season, a high workload for a 320-pound man, but the kind of output in the middle of the line they needed in a year of transition.

New defensive end Morgan Fox has been impressed with Brown's work this spring, and with his background, that's saying something. Fox played with some guy named Aaron Donald with the Rams, so he knows about disruptive defensive tackles.

Brown's obviously not close to that level yet, but with the size difference between him and the 285-pound Donald, he can also disrupt things differently without recording a sack.

"For a big guy, man, he's explosive," Fox said of Brown. "I've been around some of the best big guys in the game, and he definitely has all the traits to be one of the best.

"I think looking at him in a vacuum, just his body type, you're like 'I don't know if he's explosive or not.' But you practice with him, and you realize, this man is twitchy, he's explosive, his reaction time is insane, he's super-strong. He's got all the tools to be an elite player."

Brown still sees areas in which he needs to improve, and may be his own harshest critic.

"I've got to play a lot better," he said, emphasizing the "a lot" part. "I've got to be more consistent. At everything, every situation.

"I don't think it's one thing. It's a focus. Last year, with everything going as fast as it was through my rookie year, it was trying to juggle everything. Now being able to sit down and focus and learn is the biggest thing."

The Panthers also brought in veteran defensive tackle DaQuan Jones this offseason, though he's not the classic three-technique pass-rusher the Panthers used to have when Kawann Short was healthy and effective. But bringing another big body in should also help free Brown up, and adding a crop of pass-rushers (including Fox, who can rush from inside on passing downs) could help Brown flourish.

They obviously expect him to, considering where they drafted him.

But mostly, he expects it of himself.

Brown was named to the PFWA All-Rookie team as his eight tackles for loss ranked third among all rookies, while his 20 solo tackles led all rookie defensive tackles.

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