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Growing Pains Ahead for “Zeus Jr.”

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When the Baltimore Ravens selected Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the optimism was that the Ravens potentially stole a starting-caliber player late on the second day of the draft. 

Given Brown’s All-American pedigree and reputation as one of college football’s best linemen in 2017, the accolades were there to warrant that belief. 

But after one of the worst combine performances ever for an offensive lineman, justified second-guessing began. Sure, the tape showed Brown was a shoe-in to start at the next level, and while the combine is far from the end-all-be-all, posting one of the worst performances of all-time warrants concern. 

Luckily for the Ravens, the risk is lower given the selection of Brown a bit later in the draft. And based on the playing time (Brown Jr. has essentially played the entire preseason) the rookie has received thus far in the preseason, he surely seems to be in the team’s plans in 2018. 

With James Hurst as his only legitimate competition at right tackle (assuming Alex Lewis stays at guard), Brown Jr. very well may be trotting out on the field with the starting offense for Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. 

But should he? Let’s take a look at how Brown Jr. has performed during this preseason. 

The most positive aspect of Brown Jr.’s game has been his run blocking. When he locks on to the right defender, Brown Jr. can easily seal off his blocking assignment. 

In Baltimore’s third preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, that was on display. 

Brown Jr. easily locks on his blocking assignment of the snap. 

As the running back approaches his run lane, Brown Jr. is able to latch onto his defender and begin to turn him away from the run. 

By the time the running back reaches the line of scrimmage, Brown Jr. has already completely turned his defender away from the run. 

Plays like this show the potential in Brown Jr. Yes, he tested poorly at the combine, but his height, length and overall size allow him to overpower defenders and use his long arms to push them away from the play. At Brown Jr.’s best, these are the types of plays the Ravens will be hoping to see from the rookie this year. 

Unfortunately for Brown Jr., when he was tasked with a bit more tough of a matchup – Miami’s starting defense last week – the results were not as pretty. 

In a similar run play to the run above, Brown Jr. initially located his defender off the snap. 

At this point in the play, there really is no reason why Brown Jr. should not be able to latch onto to his defender and open up a favorable run lane. But due to the quick feet and instincts of the Miami defender, Brown Jr. quickly loses positioning on the play. 

It is all but a lost cause for Brown Jr. by this point in the play, leaving the defender with a clear shot at running back Gus Edwards. 

Luckily for Brown Jr., Edwards broke a few tackles and made a decent run out of this play, but realistically this should have been a loss of yardage as a result of Brown Jr.’s slow movement to slide back inside and seal off the run defender. 

In the same game, Brown Jr. gave us a look at how he may fare against top-tier pass rushers. Against Cameron Wake, Brown Jr. kicked back into pass protection with poor footing. 

This slow, off-balance movement gives Wake the leg up, and the play is a complete failure for Brown Jr. (ignore the game broadcast’s illustration).

Brown Jr. makes an admirable attempt to recover, but Wake is simply too quick around the edge, closing in on the quarterback with ease. 

Sure, Brown Jr. has a lot of positives to take away from this preseason. He has had more playing time than probably any other Raven, and when he gets in a groove, he is an effective run blocker and adequate pass protector against second and third-team defenses. 

But against tougher competition, Brown Jr.’s flaws were magnified. The long-term potential is undoubtedly there for the rookie, but if he starts for the Ravens all throughout the 2018 season, keep expectations low as Brown Jr. adjusts to the speed and power of the NFL. 

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