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The many talents of Derrick Brown

Derrick Brown

CHARLOTTE — You don't even have to know much about football to realize Derrick Brown is having a career season. You can just see opposing running backs flying across the field or the All-Pro guards getting thrown out of the club.

But there are hidden talents there, too, things that Brown has excelled at this year that only those who truly understand the game and his impact on it can see.

"What is Derrick Brown good at?" outside linebacker Brian Burns said, scratching his chin and thoughtfully pondering the very technical question. "Making ribs. He can make some ribs. That's something he's good at."

"He's a comedian," teammate LaBryan Ray pointed out.

"Sharing opinions," fellow starting defensive tackle Shy Tuttle added with a laugh.

"Playing cards," defensive line coach Todd Wash noted.

"Farming," nose tackle Nick Thurman offered.

"He's a good father," defensive end Chris Wormley said, taking it to a serious place for a second.

"He is a good father, that's true," Tuttle acknowledged. "He puts his kids first at everything. . . . Except for when it comes to food. He's always eating first."

"He can eat a lot, too," Burns said with a nod of respect.

These are the guys who love Derrick Brown best for a lot of reasons, including the very obvious one — he's very good at football.

Derrick Brown

When a season has gone the way this one has, it's hard to find a lot to latch onto. But the Panthers have learned beyond a doubt that Brown has lived up to his top-10 pick status and is absolutely the kind of player you can build a defense around.

"Y'all see it," veteran defensive end DeShawn Williams said simply. "He's just a ball magnet. I mean, he's just a player."

That sounds almost reductive, but sometimes these things can be explained in the simplest terms. He was named a first alternate to the Pro Bowl, taking the fourth spot in the NFC behind guys with more sacks, or from bigger markets, or better teams.

But those who see him every day don't agree with that placement.

"I just thought that was a miss, you know," defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said. "He's had a heck of a year. He's been so disruptive. You could say, I don't think it's arguably; I think he's been the best run defender in the NFL this year. He's done a heck of a job rushing the quarterback and creating pressures, the interception, the batted balls. There's been so much production, the leadership. He's been instrumental in everything that we've done.

"I think that was just a miss."

Derrick Brown

Many others agree, and there are statistical arguments to back that up as well.

He leads all defensive linemen in the NFL with 96 tackles this season. Since they started tracking that stat in 1994, the highest total ever was the 98 Miami's Christian Wilkins posted in 2022.

The old Panthers record was 67, set by Mike Rucker in 2002. Brown tied that mark last year and obliterated it this season. Also, he's playing more snaps than most cats his size. Defensive linemen are rotational by job description, but it's hard to get Brown off the field. He's played 89 percent of the team's defensive snaps this season, and he's only played fewer than 80 percent of the snaps in two games all season (a 79 percenter here in October and a 70 in the Miami heat).

It's one thing to see him flick Alvin Kamara away like a rack of ribs on the smoker or toss Cowboys guard Zack Martin like a bale of hay, but when you realize he's doing it while never taking a break, it becomes even more impressive.

"He plays hard," Evero said. "I mean, and I've said it before but probably the most impressive thing that he does for a man that big, 340-plus pounds, to run down the field, play hard every down. He's making plays 40 yards down the field."

And the sheer volume of plays he's making also speaks volumes.

Sometimes, statistics can lie. If your middle linebacker has 200 tackles in a season, that could mean he's an animal, or that might mean he has so many more chances because your team can't get off the field on third down. In his case, Brown is doing it for a side that ranks third in the league in total defense.

"I would say, yes, it's a very good thing that he's getting that many tackles," Evero said with a grin. "Yeah, they can't block him. He's been so productive, and he draws so much attention. You see it in the scheme; you see it on the tape.

"And then also, when you're talking to opposing coaches, and they acknowledge, we have to really plan around this guy. You know, when he's single-blocked, he's going to make the play."

That's something we've seen in the past, but not nearly with the frequency of this season.

Derrick Brown

Brown is growing into the role of star, just as he's growing into the role of a leader around here. All a coach has to do this season is point to Brown and tell a young player, "Do that," and that's enough. But in many of the small ways that those close to him see, he's developing in front of our eyes.

"Yeah, he's definitely coming into his own," said Burns, who was drafted in the first round the year before Brown arrived with the seventh overall pick in 2020. "At first, he was in his head a little bit during his first couple of years. But I think he just really embraced who he is as a player, and it's coming to the light now.

"Everybody has those times when they get in their head and they, I don't want to say they doubt themselves, but they frame away from what they're good at doing, and I'm pretty sure that's what he was doing in the beginning, but now he's playing it to his strengths."

And again, it's not like he was bad previously. He just wasn't this good because very few players are.

"I thought he was pretty good last year," Evero said of Brown's run defense. "He's really, he's a heck of a player. What you see in him is just continued growth and maturation and learning the NFL game, understanding, not only using his physical ability, but also all the nuances of the game that come with experience, and all of that is just playing out. . . .

"Even before I took this job, I knew what a player he was and his reputation in the league is a guy that is hard to block. That's been happening for a couple of years now."

But he's clearly taken a step this year in many ways.

Derrick Brown

Brown's still not terribly comfortable talking to a crowd, but he's drawing crowds now. And while there have been times when he'd love to slip away quietly — especially this year — he was one of the guys standing up talking after one of the more dreadful losses of a dreadful year last week in Jacksonville (even after he was ejected for a fight born from the frustration of 2023 and 2-14).

It's a maturity that walks side-by-side with the development on the field.

He looks after younger teammates. He invites newcomers over for Thanksgiving. All the little things that leaders do, in addition to the doing it on the field.

"I think he's an amazing father," Wormley said. "I had a chance to go to his house for Thanksgiving, and just the way he handled his kids, I thought, was pretty admirable. Being a dad myself, I just liked the way he handled things with the two young little ones."

"It's just the way he is with us in our room," Williams said. "I'd say when Christmas came around, he showed his true giving spirit. He's a big giver. I say that, and outside of football, you know, he's a wonderful dad, husband to his wife, and great teammate on the field.

"And then, you know, he makes a lot of plays. He shuts down one side of the field. So yeah, that's a great teammate."

Derrick Brown

But as we've learned this year, he's also so much more. A lot more.

"Just his personality, he's like a big kid," Ray said.

"He's got a story for every little thing," Tuttle said with a shake of his head. "Even when nobody asks him for a story, he's got one."

"A lot of eating," Thurman said with a grin.

"He can eat a house and a home; that's one thing I know for sure," Ray said. "Every time I see him, he's got something in his hand to eat."

"Yeah, he can eat," Burns added. "He's a big man, so yes, he can eat."

That's literal and metaphorical.

His teammates tease him about his hunger, but on the field, he's turning into something more than we've seen right before our eyes, making plays all over the field, and making himself a force.

Derrick Brown is eating, all right. And he's growing into something big.

Derrick Brown

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