No longer a safety, Stevie Brown's ready for linebacker role
CHICAGO - Stevie Brown knew something was up the first time he met new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.
A few days after Robinson was hired in January, Brown was running sprints and doing agility work in Michigan’s indoor football facility when Robinson approached and asked his name.
“I was like, ‘Steve Brown,’” Brown recalled. “He’s like, ‘What position do you play?’ I was like, ‘Safety.’ He’s like, ‘D-line?’ And I was just like, ‘Nah, safety.’ And he said, ‘Or something else.’ He’s just like, ‘We need to talk.’”
When they got around to talking again, Robinson told Brown to bid adieu to the position he played most of his life.
No longer a safety, Brown is Michigan’s new starting strong-side linebacker - and he’s OK with the change.
“I feel comfortable with the move,” Brown said Tuesday at Big Ten media day. “At first it was different for me, but now it’s fine and it’s just - I just want to play. That’s how I look at it, I just want to play.”
One of the goats of Michigan’s stunning loss to Appalachian State two years ago, Brown started all 12 games in the Wolverines secondary last season. He had his share of coverage breakdowns, but intercepted two passes, recovered one fumble and proved to be one of Michigan's few defensive playmakers.
Robinson took note of Brown’s physical nature and, despite his size (6-foot, 209 pounds), figured he’d fit well in a hybrid outside linebacker role.
“We’ll take care of him,” Robinson said. “He’s not going to be where he’s just going to get crushed. We’ll take advantage of his strengths.”
That means using Brown to cover slot receivers and tight ends, and giving him a more prominent role in blitz packages.
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said adding Brown’s speed to the front seven should help the Wolverines better defend spread offenses, and Robinson said he’ll use Brown like he did Carnell Lake at UCLA two decades ago.
“I watched him on some film, I thought this guy fits kind of exactly with what we’ve done,” Robinson said. “So it’s not like we’ve invented something. People seem to be trying to make out something, but Stevie’s going to play conventional football for us.”
Brown, whose only recollection of Lake, a Pro Bowl safety with the Pittsburgh Steelers who played outside linebacker for the Bruins, is from video games, said he hopes to emulate two other defensive backs with his move.
“Me being from Indiana, I get to see the Colts all the time and Bob Sanders,” Brown said. “He plays like five yards from the line of scrimmage all the time, but he’s still considered one of the greatest safeties. Troy Polamalu, he’s the same way.
“I don’t mind this at all because it gets to show that I’m versatile. I can be up on the line, I can take on 300-pound linemen, but then I can also cover a slot receiver one on one and they’ve seen me drop back in the deep coverage. It’s just going to show my versatility on a lot of things I can do.”
Dave Birkett covers the University of Michigan football team for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at email@example.com