Instead of chomping on Buffalo wings and General Tso’s chicken, Brown has been exercising some discipline at the dinner table and in his workout regimen.
As the Baltimore Ravens approach their sole mandatory minicamp Friday, Brown is a shadow of his formerly robust self. He’s down to 320 pounds with a goal of dropping another five pounds by the launch of training camp in late July.
And Brown is seeing a major difference in how his uniform fits as well as his mobility while adjusting to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s emphasis on linemen being able to pull and reach the second level.
"When I go back home in the offseason since everybody in my family, including my wife, is a great coach, I said, ‘I’m not going to balloon up," Brown said. "I invested in a piece of cardio equipment so I can maintain my weight instead of coming back overweight. Knowing you have to be versatile in our offense, I want to be able to move and able to do whatever they ask of me.
"I’m a big fan of Chinese food, but now I eat that healthy Chinese food. I can’t lie, I miss that General Tso’s chicken. I treat myself every once in a while."
For Brown, who started every game at left guard last season and was named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Pro team, his commitment to coach John Harbaugh’s offseason program has meant attending every weightlifting session.
With All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden expected to retire, Brown is the most experienced offensive lineman returning with 29 career starts entering his fourth NFL season.
The former fourth-round draft pick from North Carolina readily acknowledges that the transition to a potential post J.O. era will be a big challenge for a young offensive line.
"Of course, we love J.O. and we’d love to have him out there on the football field with us, but it’s just like any scenario in the movies when the star goes down and says, ‘Guys, the show must go on,’" Brown said. "It’s not a walk in the park, but we’re men and we know we can get the job done even if our big brother isn’t there."
Brown took snaps at center, his college position, during last week’s minicamp as right tackle Marshal Yanda lined up at center and right guard with Ben Grubbs shifting to his natural left guard spot. If rookie draft pick Oniel Cousins emerges as a potential starter at right tackle, then the flexibility of the line would increase markedly.
Plus, the Ravens have the option of replacing Mike Flynn at center with Chris Chester while leaving Brown, Grubbs and Yanda at their respective positions from last season.
"If anything happens to Chester, I’ll be ready," Brown said. "It really helps out that I can play all three positions inside and that Yanda can play almost all five positions. With that type of versatility, you can get away with dressing six linemen."
Dropping weight and playing more than one position haven’t been the biggest offseason changes for Brown.
Besides learning Cameron’s intricate playbook, the Ravens have to contend with demanding veteran offensive line coach John Matsko’s higher expectations.
Matsko, who has coached standout blockers Anthony Munoz, Will Shields, Brian Waters, Willie Roaf and Adam Timmerman, has injected a different approach.
"He brings an attitude to the offense because he’s very direct," Brown said. "I’ve never been around someone with such a penchant for detail. There are some plays where I’ll say, ‘Wow, I did a pretty good job,’ and he will find something wrong. Nobody’s perfect out there, and you know he’ll pull every ounce of potential out of you."
With perennial underachieving offense contrasting a defense that traditionally ranks among the NFL elite, Cameron is trying to revitalize a low-scoring attack while overseeing a quarterback competition between first-round draft pick Joe Flacco, former starter Kyle Boller and former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.
Regardless of who’s under center, Brown predicts a watershed offensive change.
"Cam is a guru," Brown said. "He’s got so much going on in his head, so many tricks up his sleeve. People are going to be surprised this year, I’ll leave it at that. Some of the things we’ve done in practice already, our defense is looking at us like, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty good play.’"
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
Photo by Sabina Moran