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Rookie RB Chase Brown's Routine Anything But As Bengals Note His NFL-Ready Approach

HB Chase Brown runs the ball during offseason training at the Kettering Health Practice Fields in Cincinnati, Ohio.
HB Chase Brown runs the ball during offseason training at the Kettering Health Practice Fields in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Position coach Justin Hill sees him in the Paycor Stadium multi-purpose room walking through the next day's practice script.

His high school coach in Bradenton, Fla., Tod Creneti remembers him doing at least one extra thing every day during his careers at St. Stephen's Episcopal School and the University of Illinois.

His fellow Bengals rookies, wide receivers Andrei Iosivas and Charlie Jones, help him make about 120 catches off the machine after each practice when they clear four racks of footballs three times.

The thing is, Bengals rookie running back Chase Brown already knew all those things would happen at approximately those times because since his junior year at Illinois he writes down everything he plans to do the next day on a sheet of notebook paper.

"I'm a routine person," says Brown, "I know how important consistency is. When I didn't do things consistently, those little losses would add up and that's what changed me. The little wins. Setting yourself a schedule, going through a schedule chronologically. Just doing what you say you're going to do on a daily basis. And those little things, the little wins turn into big things and big wins and at the end of the day, you see improvement in yourself."

If it sounds like Brown, the fifth-rounder everyone is rooting for, has already been around the NFL for a few years, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan agrees.

"He's already a pro," Callahan says. "He had a pro's mindset in college. Great character with a great work ethic and those things will translate well."

But just once, Creneti would like Brown to stop writing down what he's going to do and reflect on what he's already written.

How he and his twin Sydney have overcome a crushing cycle of poverty and family illness to become two of the top 163 players in the draft. How they left their homes just outside Toronto, went to Florida to find a chance for a new life and never lost a game as St. Stephen's won its first two Independent School state titles. How Chase became a Doak Walker Award finalist with a hellacious 1,600-yard season on five yards a pop to put him on the brink of becoming Illinois' all-time rusher before he opted for the draft.

"There is no part of him that is comfortable with not being prepared as much as possible," Creneti says. "When you think about the amount of uncertainty they grew up with, both of them have done everything they can to eliminate uncertainty from their lives. One of the ways they do that is, no surprises, they're going to be ready. They're going to make sure they've done everything they can to be as prepared as possible."

Their story is every bit as good as their talent.

Safety Sydney went in the third round to the Eagles. When the Bengals saw the game-breaking speed out of the backfield they put on their shopping list was available at No. 163, Chase made them the sixth set of twins to be drafted in the last 40 years. It capped a day beyond emotions in Ontario as Chase sat between mother Raechel and her mother Nancy McQuillan. A family once homeless and bouncing from shelters to empathetic homes as Raechel battled a deadly disease of the white blood cells was together and celebrating riches. The twins had become pros long before the draft during those shaky days of going to school and taking care of their baby sister Mya before that e-mail to Creneti in Florida from one of their local supporters.

"You grow up fast," Creneti says, "when you're in the grocery store trying to get your family what it needs when your mom is not doing well."

So that's why Justin Hill can look at Chase Brown in the running backs room and know exactly what he's getting. He first met Brown during an informal meeting at the NFL scouting combine. A few days later he worked him out on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium as one of the coaches overseeing the position drills. Then a couple of weeks later he got on a Zoom call with him.

"He's consistent. He is who he is," Hill says. "A lot of times a guy puts on one personality in the interview process and when you get him, he's different. That's not always bad, but different. Chase is who we thought he is and he was very impressive in that first meeting.

"He prides himself on his preparation on and off the field. Always in his playbook. Always a day ahead. Prepared for practice and meetings. He's approaching it like a pro. The questions he asks and then you see him in the weight room walking through the next practice with the young receivers (Iosivas and Jones.)"

But the 5-9, 205-pound Brown knows the intangibles only take him so far. When he dined with Creneti after he declared for the draft, he said he now had to concentrate on not only making a team but making a name for himself in the league. Brown says he knows why the Bengals drafted him. An explosive understudy to veteran lead back Joe Mixon who'll hopefully work into a rotation.

(Here's another example of Brown's world view. Creneti recalls Brown telling him about an Illini practice where he sensed a Titans rep following his every move. Brown later told Creneti he wouldn't mind going to a team with an established back like Derrick Henry. He could not only learn from guys like that, but the fewer carries would mean a longer career.)

"I know why they're paying me." He's to pop the big runs they've sought (they haven't had a 50-yard run in the 2020s) and create space in pass defenses looking to choke Joe Burrow's deep game. Brown's 83 forced miss tackles were second in the nation only to first-rounder Bijan Robinson, per Pro Football Focus, and his 4.4 40-yard speed is intriguing even though the Illini rarely threw it to him.

"I know the value of the pass game," says Brown, who watches tape of the league's best two-way backs. He's an admirer of Austin Ekeler, Christian McCaffrey, and Alvin Kamara, but won't say who he thinks his NFL comp is. PFF says it is a pretty good one in Khalil Herbert, the Bears' sixth-round pick of 2021 who averages five yards per his 232 pro carries.

"Let's see how the season goes, but right now I'm Chase Brown," says Chase Brown. "That's who I'm trying to be on game day. Be myself. Fast. Versatile. Elusive. Somebody who has speed and agility with speed to separate from people. An all-around running back who can pass block, can catch, and run the ball efficiently and is trusted on all three downs."

Creneti, who has moved from coach to trusted counselor and friend, says Bengals fans are going to like his unique brand of elusiveness.

"His ability to make people miss has always fascinated me," Creneti says. "He's not a jitterbug guy. He's one cut, drops the hip. He's more slippery. He looks like he's running right at you and then all of a sudden he's half the size he was and you can't hold on to him."

Brown also has the Bengals' chip. He's aware of the criticism. Callahan loves that his 329 carries led all Power Five backs, showing despite his size he can take a 20-carry-a-game pounding and still produce. But Brown hears the whispers about his strength.

"I've been doubted and that's what really drives me as a player," Brown says. "Not to prove people wrong but to prove myself right. Show people what I'm capable of. I think through the process there was a bunch of things about my load. My body not being able to take the physicality of the league and I just take that as motivation. I know what I'm capable of and only I can control what I do on the field."

There are also murmurs about his eight fumbles in the last two years, but his aware eyes, willingness, and preparation ease concerns about his pass protection.

"Whatever concerns are related to his game, he'll be better at it in a month from now, a year from now because he doesn't stop working," Creneti says. "He's really committed to being a third-down back … When you get to the NFL level, you get exposed to coaches who teach incredible detail in terms of technique and he will eat that up."

Brown may not have an NFL comp in mind, but Creneti does when it comes to impacting his team on and off the field. He looks at the Bengals' own Giovani Bernard, the popular former Bengal and Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee they drafted ten years ago. He's the same 5-9, 205 pounds as Brown and his upbringing is startlingly similar. After his mother died when he was seven, Bernard and his older brother and father battled poverty and homelessness as he persevered through a Florida high school before his father regained his business.

"Giovani Bernard was loved and respected there and I told Chase that's the kind of impact he can make. He's that kind of guy," Creneti says.

In the meantime, it is one long series of things he'll write down. For another voluntary practice on Monday, Brown figures to set his alarm early, drives to Paycor Stadium from his downtown hotel to get in the sauna for ten minutes. Then he'll shower, dress, and head to the weight room for some strategic maintenance on his shoulders, knees, and back—some before practice and meetings and some after.

"Everything, I do for a purpose," says Brown of a pro's routine that is anything but.