It was no small secret that the Arizona Cardinals needed an pass rushing outside linebacker heading into the NFL draft so when Cody Brown's name was called in the second round, Cardinal nation let out a huge sigh of relief. Brown is an accomplished pass rusher who improved every at the University of Connecticut. He totaled 33 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks over the past two years and finished up his senior campaign as a team captain and All-Big East Selection. His great accomplishment was to agree to an interview with your very own Revenge of the Birds.
The starters at outside linebacker are in place heading into camp, but Brown has one significant advantage over both Clark Haggans and Chike Okeafor: youth. With the age of Haggans and Okeafor (a combined 65 years of age), Brown will be expected to contribute early on, but how effective can he be?
What to expect early on: Brown is at an advantage compared to other collegiate defensive ends who are moving to outside linebacker for two reasons. First, he has played with his hand off the ground and secondly, he isn't a liability against the run. Brown, as he told us in a recent interview, has played from a standing position before so he's not completely lost in space as some young outside pass rushers. He's also got deceiving strength and holds his own in the running game. Most OLB-converts, are undersized defensive ends who excel at rushing the passer but lack the bulk to any factor against the run (see Orakpo, Maybin and E. Brown). Cody is stout at the point and uses his hands well to shed blocks and maintain the edge against runs to the outside (a big responsibility for OLB). His ability to defend the run and rush the passer, should help him contribute earlier in his career than most OLB-converts. So you're probably wondering why he wasn't a first round pick....
What he will struggle with early on: There are a couple of question marks on Brown's resume with the biggest one being his lack of truly elite athleticism. He ran an uninspiring forty time at the combine (4.8), but he performed much better at his pro day when he lowed his time by a full two tenths of a second (4.6). If his true speed is closer to his pro day time, he won't have any problem turning the corner against NFL tackles, but another question with Brown is that his pass rush repertoire is limited. He too often relied on either a bull rush or straight speed rush to get to the quarterback but he'll have to round out his game to beat NFL tackles with any regularity. His final question mark is very common and he shares it with every other OLB prospect in the draft except for Clint Sintim, a lack of experience in coverage. Even though he played with his hand off the ground at times, he was rarely asked to drop into coverage. At the combine he showed to ability to get good depth on his drops and his pass/run recognition seems adequate, but it will take time develop coverage skills.
What to expect in 2009: To start, we can forget any idea of him opening the season as a starter and most likely dismiss the idea of him becoming a starter during the season, unless someone gets injured. That's not an indictment of his skills or ability, it's just that he would be a liability in coverage. Most likely he'll be asked to spell Haggans and/or Okeafor in passing situations where he can focus on rushing the passer and relying on his physical tools without trying to read the offense. If he shows good progress, we might seem him rotate every third series or so with Haggans just to keep Clark fresh. Haggans has been down this road before during his final season in Pittsburgh when rookie LaMarr Woodley spelled him and shared similar responsibilities. We should also expect to see Brown play a major role on special teams, especially coverage units, where his blend of size and speed should be quite a force.
The Cardinals believe that they landed a future starter in Cody Brown and he's certainly got the physical tools to develop into a dynamic outside linebacker. His progression in 2009 should be a very interesting development and hopefully a healthy and effective Chike Okeafor and Clark Haggans will allow him to come along at a reasonable pace. What do you like most about Brown's game and what do you expect from him in 2009? Would you be worried if he had to step into the starting lineup if Haggans or Okeafor went down?