New Orleans Saints left tackle Charles Brown entered training camp in July with the weight of Who Dat Nation seemingly resting on his broad shoulders.
As the heir apparent to replace Jermon Bushrod and protect quarterback Drew Brees’ blind side, Brown found himself under constant scrutiny from media, fans and the coaching staff, all wondering whether he could stay healthy and stave off the challenge from third-round pick Terron Armstead.
Well, guess what? Brown has and did.
Through six games, all is quiet at left tackle, meaning Brown must be doing something right in his first full season as a starter.
Going into Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, he has been flagged for a team-high five holding penalties. But two were declined, and only one of them caused a drive to stall, according to Game Statistics Information System.
Though the Saints running game has struggled, it has been more efficient running to Brown’s side in terms of producing first downs (15), runs of 10-plus yards (nine) and the fewest negative plays (nine), according to NFL.com.
Without knowing Brown’s blocking assignments, there is no way of telling whether he is responsible for any of the 14 sacks the Saints have allowed, though Brees gives him a ringing endorsement.
“He’s been great,’’ Brees said.
“(Brown) had an opportunity, and he stepped up and took it,” center Brian de la Puente said. “He’s really stepped into the role nicely.’’
Brown faces a stern test Sunday against versatile Bills defensive lineman Mario Williams, who is tied for second in the NFL with 10 sacks. Listed as a right end, which places him over Brown, Williams often shifts to other spots along Buffalo’s defensive front, depending on down and distance.
It’s imperative that Brown and his teammates know Williams’ whereabouts at all times.
“He’s a beast,’’ Brown said. “He’s been a beast since he got in the league (as the No. 1 pick in 2006), and he’s still a beast. He’s a big, strong guy with not too many weaknesses. He does a little bit of everything.’’
“Of course, I still have things I can improve upon, but I definitely feel more comfortable. ... I have more confidence. I think I’ve grown a little bit in every avenue since my rookie year. I notice (the difference) every week.’’ CHARLES BROWN, Saints tackle
Asked whether Brown is up to the challenge, Brees replied: “Absolutely. He has to be, doesn’t he?’’
One knock against Brown had been his inability to stay healthy during his first three seasons, with the previous two ending on injured reserve. But he hasn’t missed a snap this season, participating in all 415 through the first six games.
“I’ve been playing pretty well this year,’’ said Brown, the 64th pick in the 2010 draft. “Of course, I still have things I can improve upon, but I definitely feel more comfortable. My hand placement is better. My footwork is better. I have more confidence. I think I’ve grown a little bit in every avenue since my rookie year. I notice (the difference) every week.’’
Brees said Brown has developed a rapport with his offensive linemates and become a better pro by being around veterans such as right tackle Zach Strief, guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and de la Puente.
“There are a lot of young, talented guys that come into this league and, because they don’t learn to become a pro, they end up out of this league sooner than they should,” Brees said. “What does being a pro mean? It’s the way you practice, the way you prepare. It’s doing all the right things in the film room and weight room — your recovery, paying attention to what a lot of the veteran guys are doing in the room and picking up on their good habits and applying them to your game.”
“Charlie Brown was next man up when Jermon Bushrod (signed with Chicago in free agency). He’d been waiting for his opportunity, and he’d earned it. But (the coaches) didn’t just give it to him. He had to battle a few guys for that spot, and he came to work every day to get better. He’s continued to get better, and it’s been fun to watch him grow and mature.’’