It is right after Tuesday’s practice and there is Andrew Brown, the only Bengal to have a sack in the pre-season opener, seeking how he can get a couple of more Thursday night (7:30-Cincinnati’s Local 12) when they play in Washington and he comes home to play in front of the Virginia Beach faithful.
And that’s what coaches are looking for in the preseason. At least his defensive line coach, Nick Eason.
Also toughness and intelligence. Brown flashed them in Kansas City Saturday night and Eason wants to see him do it again five days later. If you want to know how to make the club, click Brown’s link from Aug. 10.
Check out the behind-the-scenes photos of the Bengals traveling to our nation's capital for the second preseason game of 2019.
But … Consistency is on the line Thursday.
And, really, shouldn’t Eason know as a Super Bowl champion for the Evil Empire Steelers?
“You know what really impressed me?” Eason asks. ‘He also played special teams and had (65) snaps in the game.”
After laboring on lists last season as a rookie (practice squad, IR), can Brown stack up another good one Thursday against old friend Jay Gruden’s offense?
“He showed he can rush inside and out,” Eason says. “His value went up in the game. He just has to keep improving. That’s what you’re looking for. Consistency. Guys that want to compete. Guys that are tough, guys that play smart. He’s been doing that.
“He has all the tools.”
So here is sweat-soaked Carl Lawson, the Bengals quicksilver pass rusher who watches more film than an Oscar voter, gladly coaching up Brown here in the middle of the locker room. He's telling Brown not to lose the quarterback as he gets past the offensive line. He grabs Brown and drops back like a quarterback. Keep the eye on the upfield shoulder, he urges. Lawson had been barking at Brown during a team drill and dropping the velvet-rope name of Rams Pro Bowl tackle Aaron Donald.
“He’s got a lot of ability. It’s good to see his hard work come to fruition,” Lawson says. “He’s got elite get-off. He’s got traits. He’s starting to get refinement with those traits. He’s got elite traits.”
Now, take a knee and knock back a Gatorade. Lawson isn’t saying Brown is the next Aaron Donald or that he’s anywhere near the first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Lawson is simply talking traits.
“You see it and it’s on film. His take-off and that’s what AD does. That’s a trait. Is it refined completely yet or at the level it needs to be? No. He has to keep working. Go watch the film. I’m a firm believer in the film never lies. Go watch how he gets off the rock. He gets off the rock similar to Aaron Donald. I’m not calling him Aaron Donald. It’s a trait like Aaron Donald has.”
Brown is used to acclaim. He was named Virginia’s Gatorade National Player of the Year at Chesapeake High School and went to the University of Virginia ranked by some as the top defensive tackle prospect in the country.
He didn’t get out of Charlottesville rated as highly after four seasons and 24 starts, but he still rated one of the Bengals’ three fifth-round picks in 2018. Not only is he talented, but he’s passionate. Lawson may say he has some elite traits and Eason may say he’s a versatile sort, but Brown calls himself, “A ticking time bomb.”
Especially after that frustrating rookie year he got hurt the week before the pre-season opener and then suffered a season-ending hand injury the week they were activating him from the practice squad.
“Knowing what you can do but having to hold it in. It’s just like a ticking time bomb just waiting,” Brown says. “Just finally being able to show that I belong at this level is amazing. But I want to keep doing it. I got to stay consistent.”
The new coaching staff has decided that the 6-3, 290-poundish Brown is going to be more effective at end and that’s where they put him in the spring following a season he grappled between tackle and end. Just not big enough for the inside.
But isn’t this a funny game? When tackle Christian Ringo hurt his thumb Saturday night, Brown ended up doing exactly that. Playing both end and tackle and impressing his bosses.
“I feel like I can play technique really well in the end position as well as the three technique,” Brown says. “I feel like I can do both, really. That’s the thing for me is staying versatile. Whatever the coaches need me to do. I’ve got to do it.”
Eason, a 3-4 end from the old AFC North days, knows what it means to dig inside and out. The kid is getting double takes. Eason had to get re-acquainted with Brown in training camp.
“He’s improved tremendously since the spring. I don’t know what he did on break, but he came back a different guy,” Eason says. “He eliminated a lot of mistakes he was making in the spring.
“We had Ringo go out and (Brown) hadn’t taken reps at the three technique during training camp and he balled out as a three.”
Here’s how the D-line would appear to break down with the leading candidates. Lawson, Sam Hubbard, Carlos Dunlap are the regular ends. There is Kerry Wynn, a veteran from the Giants expected to play both end and tackle and be a special teams staple. Jordan Willis returns for a third year and, like Brown, has been recognized as basically an end.
For tackles there are regulars Geno Atkins, Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow, as well as fourth-rounder Renell Wren and veteran nose tackle Josh Tupou.
If you’re keeping nine up front, that’s a lot of talented bodies. Which is why the coaches are looking for consistency. Brown would like to add versatility.
“It helped me a little,” says Brown of focusing on playing end all season. “But at the same time being able to play more than one position helps me, too. It definitely increased my stock.”
The search continues Thursday night. Lawson, coming off ACL surgery, won’t play and probably makes his ’19 debut next week against the Giants at Paul Brown Stadium.
But he’s watching.
“I firmly believe each year is a new year,” Lawson says. “I love the NFL because anybody can come from anywhere.”