Brown grows into his position Lineman: At 6 feet 7, 340 pounds, right tackle Orlando Brown relies on his size, strength and most of all heart to help anchor the Ravens' offensive line.

September 13, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Orlando Brown talks about how far he has come, about how he has gone from a raw, undisciplined, unknown lineman to one of the NFL's up-and-coming offensive tackles, about how he has grown to appreciate the nuances of a trade that, at its core, remains a down-and-dirty, slug-it-out affair on Sundays.

Then again, Brown, 25, is not the type to over-analyze his position. To him, the football field might as well be an alley in the neighborhood where he grew up in the heart of Northeast Washington.

"I've learned the basics of pass blocking. I know I can't give up the inside rush, and I know he [his opponent] can't run me over," said Brown, the Ravens' massive right tackle who measures 6 feet 7, 340 pounds. "He's got to beat me outside, around the corner. I know I've got to kick my right foot out and keep my head up.

"Other than that, I'm just a bully. I take every game like a fight."

Which is fine with Ravens center Steve Everitt, one of Brown's close friends.

"He'll be the first to tell you he ain't a technician out on the field," Everitt said of Brown. "Half the time he throws technique out the window. He still plays like he did in college, when he just wanted to kill the guy across from him.

"He's one of a kind, and I'm glad he's on my team. If I had to pick a guy on this team to have my back up against in a fight, he's the guy. Not just because he's big. It's because of what he's got inside."

His Ravens teammates or coaches may critique the finer points of Brown's blocking, but no one questions the big man's heart. Consider that in 1993, the Cleveland Browns took a chance on Brown by signing him as a free agent out of South Carolina State, a small black college in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Three years later, Brown is a team captain, a fixture and a budding star at right tackle, where he will make his 27th consecutive start Sunday against the Houston Oilers.

That triumphant course brings a smile to the face of Scott Pioli, the Ravens' pro personnel coordinator who discovered Brown when he was a scout in Cleveland. Brown was gaining a reputation at South Carolina State as a devastating run blocker, after switching from defensive tackle to offense. Pioli recalls the night he went to South Carolina State to work out a defensive back before the 1993 draft.

"As I was setting up the workout in the gym, this huge human being walks up to me and says, 'Yo, man, I'm working out, too,' " said Pioli, who denied Brown's first request. "Then he says, 'No, man, I want to work out.' I looked at him and said, 'OK, we'll work you out.' "

Brown then astounded Pioli during the agility drills. His feet were too quick and he changed directions too easily for someone so large, Pioli said he thought to himself. Sure, his pass-blocking sets were a mess. Brown barely moved his feet. But his combination of strength and athleticism made Brown an attractive project, even at 370 pounds.

Throughout minicamp and training camp that season -- which Brown eventually spent on injured reserve with a shoulder injury -- assistant coach Pat Hill and strength coach Jerry Simmons worked Brown relentlessly. Not a day went by, usually beginning around 6 a.m., when Brown wasn't lifting weights, running, riding an exercise bike, learning proper techniques, running drill after drill. Before long, he was down to a playable 340.

"This guy would not wear out. I could not break his will," Hill recalled.

"He never said a word," Simmons said. "He was raw, but he knew he was going to be all right. It was either that or back to D.C."

At Woodson High, Brown earned his share of accolades as a two-way star lineman. He already was known as "Zeus," the nickname his mother, Catherine, came up with while she was pregnant with him. Catherine was a substitute teacher who taught mythology at the time. Brown was born a month premature and weighed barely over 3 pounds.

He weighed 250 by his freshman year at Woodson. By the time he went to Central State (Ohio), where he played left tackle for a year -- future Dallas Cowboys star Erik Williams was the right tackle -- Brown weighed 270 and was growing fast. He transferred after a year to South Carolina State.

By the time the Cleveland Browns were showing interest, Brown was turning down an offer by the World Wrestling Federation to join its ranks with a salary in the $400,000 range.

"They wanted me to go to school in Atlanta, teach me how to fall, come up with a name for me, stuff like that," Brown said. "I always wanted to play football."

Brown hit it off with most of his Cleveland teammates instantly, though he needed Everitt's help to break down one barrier. Until he made it to the NFL, Brown had no white friends, having grown up in Washington's inner city and attended exclusively black schools. Everitt, then a rookie and a first-round pick, befriended him in their first training camp together in 1993.

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