Ex-Terp Brown finally is picking off a little glory this season with Dolphins

December 18, 1992|By Scott Fowler | Scott Fowler,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MIAMI -- Until this season, J.B. Brown was a cornerback who didn't make interceptions. That's like owning a burger place that doesn't make hamburgers. Your fries can be spectacular, your milkshakes full and frothy, but there is no disguising the fact that the meat of your business is missing.

vTC In the three seasons before 1992, Brown had a total of one interception. He was the poster child for the Dolphins' problems at cornerback -- all of Miami's corners combined for one lousy pickoff last season.

This season, however, Brown has started cranking out the double-meat cheeseburgers. He has four interceptions, including one in each of the past two games. Brown's 35-yard return of Jay Schroeder's pass against the Los Angeles Raiders Monday night sparked the Dolphins' 20-7 victory.

Brown believes his new risk-taking philosophy is paying off. "I'm much more aggressive now," he said, absently tugging at the yellow cap he always wears on the field. It reads "J&B on my mind."

Brown has been on more people's minds lately, as he has overtaken Louis Oliver in the team lead for interceptions and doubled the interception total of highly touted rookie Troy Vincent. Buffalo receiver James Lofton called Brown "the most underrated cornerback in the league" earlier this season, and his teammates and coaches also are praising him.

Coach Don Shula, a former cornerback himself, has noticed Brown's change in playing style and likes it.

"If you play like you're afraid to make a mistake, you don't utilize all of your abilities," said Shula, whose 9-5 Dolphins can clinch a playoff spot by beating the New York Jets Sunday. "You may not make a mistake, but you don't make the plays, either."

Defense coach Tom Olivadotti has tried to preach to the Dolphins this season about the necessity of making big plays, even if you are taking a chance when you try to make one. Brown leads a quartet of Dolphins cornerbacks who have combined for 10 interceptions -- nine more than the Dolphins got from the position last season.

"I attribute a lot of our success to J.B. and Troy," linebacker Bryan Cox said. "They've been able to play man-to-man against the best receivers in the league, and that allows us to put more guys on the line of scrimmage and stop the run."

A fourth-year player out of Maryland, Brown has developed a strong sense of community in his years with the Dolphins. He watched a TV news report Wednesday about a woman who had bought Christmas presents for her children only to have them stolen. Brown and fiancee Alisha Roberts were touched, and at Brown's request, Roberts found the woman and gave her a $250 check from Brown Thursday morning.

Brown can afford it. He is the Dolphins' lowest-paid starter in the defensive backfield, making $425,000 this season, but his contract expires at the end of this year.

The possibility of a holdout always looms with an unsigned starter, and that is what sidetracked Brown in 1991, according to Shula.

"He missed the whole training camp and really didn't make any progress that season," Shula said. "That was almost a lost year for him."

Brown basically agreed, but couldn't resist a small jab. "I believe once I did sign I didn't start for the first five games after that," Brown said. "That also had something to do with my disappointing year."

Little has gone wrong this season for Brown.

"I'm not dropping the ball like I used to," he said. "Confidence is a big part of being a defensive back, and I've got it now. I used to get burned and not be able to forget about it -- it would nag at me, and I'd wonder what's wrong. Now I just line up and play and forget about it. Everyone gets burned from time to time. But there's always another play."

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