After two quiet seasons to start his NFL career, Stevie Brown burst onto the scene in 2012 in his first year with the New York Giants. The 26-year-old was second in the NFL with eight interceptions, despite not seeing consistent playing time until the fourth game of the season. Even better, he led the league with 307 interception return yards, which was a ridiculous 147 yards better than the second-place finisher, Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber.
What can we expect from Big Blue’s starting strong safety in 2013? Well, Brown may not be so larcenous, which will put the emphasis on shoring up some weaknesses that were naturally overlooked last season because of his bundle of picks.
For starters, let’s address the interceptions and come up with a realistic figure that he can attain in the upcoming season. Brown reads a quarterback’s eyes well and breaks with a purpose when he has a chance to pick off a pass. He also has good hands, allowing him to hold onto most opportunities.
The problem is that eight interceptions is a lot of picks and a nearly impossible total to repeat in back-to-back seasons. For instance, Ed Reed, who is 10th all-time in interceptions with 61, has never had eight or more two seasons in a row. He’s actually only managed to hit this number or exceed it in three of his 11 seasons.
No offense to Brown, but he is not in Reed’s class and never will be.
With that said, Brown will still probably intercept three or four passes. And—if given some real estate to run after securing the pick—his return yardage should again be impressive. The man has moves in the open field similar to a solid NFL running back.
His year, however, won’t be defined by the turnovers he creates (he also had two forced fumbles and two fumbles recovered) and the return yardage he racks up. He’ll need to focus more on the fundamentals, because the flash won’t be as pronounced.
The good news is that Brown doesn’t appear to be fooled by his performance last season. Based on his comments to Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger earlier this month, he seems to understand that he has improvements to make:
Following meetings with the coaching staff during minicamp and OTA’s, Brown realized that he needed to improve on his body control this offseason.
When he is asked to come up to the line and cover slot receivers, he admits there is still a certain level of discomfort — hence, exercises to strengthen his lower body and increase his burst, as well as workouts that improve lateral quickness.
He also peppered Victor Cruz with questions during the offseason, and plans to work with him more intensely during camp to improve his coverage skills.
Hopefully the exercises and work that Brown did this offseason improve his coverage skills and quickness. Unfortunately, there is probably a limit to how much he can improve. Brown was a hybrid safety/outside linebacker in college at Michigan. He does not have the natural hip movement and speed of a true safety. While he has good instincts and ball skills, Brown will likely always struggle, to some degree, in coverage.
One aspect of his game Brown can work on that he didn’t mention to Orr, though he may have been hinting at it with the “body control” comment, is his tendency to be overly aggressive, especially in tackle pursuit on running plays.
Let’s take a look at two examples pertaining to running plays. The first occurred in Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns. As you can see in the first image, Brown makes an aggressive move towards the inside, believing Trent Richardson will bounce through the hole opened by his offensive line.
Instead, Richardson stays on course, leaving Brown behind the play, which is clearly illustrated in the second image.
If Brown had not guessed and instead made Richardson commit first, he probably would have tackled him around the five-yard line.
The other example is taken from the second Washington Redskins game in Week 13. Brown again guesses, this time believing Robert Griffin III will cut it back inside.
RG3, however, heads toward the sideline, easily leaving Brown behind the play.
Brown should have been especially conservative on this play given Griffin’s speed. Instead, his over-pursuit tacked on another 15-20 yards to the 46-yard scamper.
Unlike speed and fluid hip movement, over-aggressiveness can be fixed. As Brown gains more experience and gets used to offensive players tendencies through film work, he should demonstrate better containment in the running game.
If he does, he’ll be playing into another strength no one talks about: his tackling. When Brown gets his hands on a runner, he almost always brings them down. This is where his linebacker pedigree is a benefit—he is very strong, which allows him to wrap up better than most safeties.
By signing his RFA tender this offseason, Brown is in line to make more money in the NFL than most seventh-round picks do. He is still only on a one-year contract, though, so don’t discount dollar signs as a motivation for Brown to improve his play this season.
Hopefully for Brown’s sake, the team that signs him doesn't put too much emphasis on raw stats. His numbers may not look as gaudy in 2013, but he still has a chance to have a better season than 2012.
Any uptick in his coverage skills and quickness should be moderate. The major improvement, though, could be in his run pursuit—if he practices patience to put himself in a position to make a tackle.
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