Brown the ‘unknown’ fourth man on Titans’ line

Friday, August 22, 2008 at 1:17am
Coaches and teammates say this could be Tony Brown's year to shine. File

Whenever great defensive lines are discussed in the NFL, it seems two or three names on that particular unit quickly come to mind.

And for whatever reason, remembering that last name to complete a defensive front four usually makes for a great trivia question answer.

Remember the Purple People Eaters of the 1970s Minnesota Vikings? Most NFL fans know the names Alan Page, Carl Eller and Jim Marshall. But few recall the fourth member of that line, Doug Sutherland or before him Gary Larsen.

Same thing in Dallas, where Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Harvey Martin and Randy White became household names as part of America’s Team. Not as many recall the name Larry Cole.

Ditto even for the Steel Curtain where Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White were mainstays, while Ernie Holmes and later Steve Furness capably filled the fourth spot on the line.

While the Tennessee Titans would certainly have to go deep into the playoffs over multiple seasons to be mentioned in the conversations about those great lines of the past, they are in a similar situation where name recognition is involved.

Kyle Vanden Bosch and Albert Haynesworth are coming off Pro Bowl seasons and appear to be in the prime of their careers. And Titans fans fondly welcome back “The Freak” this season with the re-signing of Jevon Kearse to play left defensive end.

But what of that fourth spot on the line? While Tony Brown has been a solid pickup since joining the Titans in 2006, it’s safe to say that Brown’s notoriety and accolades have yet to stack up to the other three. And that’s just fine with Brown.

“On this defense, they can just name three, but I don’t care at all,” Brown said. “To be perfectly honest with you, I really don’t care at all, because people don’t have to know my name.”

Titans fans are familiar with Brown’s story. He failed to stick in Miami, San Francisco and Carolina, only to land in Tennessee as a fill-in while Haynesworth was serving his five-game suspension in ’06. Brown played well enough as backup to keep a roster spot when Haynesworth returned, and last year, he beat out Randy Starks to start at left defensive tackle. He also earned a contract extension at the start of the 2007 season.

He has also over the last two years become a favorite of defensive line coach Jim Washburn.

“The other guys are probably better known. He’s a good football player. I don’t know how to put it in any other words,” Washburn said. “He’s quick, he’s talented and he’s explosive. … He understands how to play football.

“He’s good. He might not have fit with 31 other teams, but he fit us to a T. He’s made for us, and he’s one of the best defensive tackles we’ve ever had here, period.”

With Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch drawing plenty of attention on the right side, Brown will likely again see single coverage most of the time. Vanden Bosch believes Brown could be in for a big season, maybe even some notoriety.

“I think this is going to be his breakout year,” Vanden Bosch said. “Me, Albert and Jevon, I think will get a lot of attention from offenses scheme-wise, blocking-wise. Tony has really worked on improving his game to being a playmaker, and I think he’s going to be one to surprise a lot of people this year.”

To Brown the attention doesn’t matter nearly as much as the production.

“Every time they see that film, they know. I know I’m not a big name guy, but sometimes, the people you least expect can be the one that stands out to you the most,” Brown said.

And his Titans teammates know as well.

“As other teams see it, he’s the unknown, but he’s right up there with us,” Haynesworth said. “The guy can play ball. I don’t know what Carolina and San Fran and all those other teams that cut him were thinking, but he’s got a home here. We know who he is.”

UPSHAW REACTION: Titans center Kevin Mawae spoke Thursday about the death of NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, who died of pancreatic cancer at age 63 Thursday morning.

Mawae, current president of the NFL PA, said he found out around 6 a.m. Thursday morning of Upshaw’s death Upshaw had only discovered he had the disease last weekend when his wife took him to an emergency room during a family vacation.

“For me he’s been a friend, a mentor, and a leader in my life for the last 10 years, so the unexpected hearing of his death this morning was a shock to myself and to many others,” Mawae said. “The thing that I will always remember most about Gene was that he was a man of his convictions and he was the man that stood for the players and the NFL.”

Mawae went on to detail many of Upshaw’s accomplishments while serving as head of the players association.

“A lot is going to be said about what Gene’s done and hasn’t done for the former players, what he’s doing for the current players, but I don’t think that anybody will ever question his passion for the league and for the players of the NFL,” Mawae said. “We’re at a time in this league right now that the money is far greater than it has ever been. The players are getting a bigger share than they ever have before in the past. Our benefit levels are the greatest of any sport in the country and it’s all because of what Gene has done and the passion that he’s put into his work.”

Attorney Richard Berthelsen, who represented Steve McNair in his 2006 grievance against the Titans, was voted unanimously to serve as interim executive director.

Mawae said a permanent replacement for Upshaw would not come until next March at the earliest.

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