UCLA’s Linebackers Coach Scott White was kind enough to talk with me about the newest inside linebacker of the Tennessee Titans, Jayon Brown. He had nothing but good things to say.
Tennessee Titans linebackers are coached by Lou Spanos, who coordinated the University of California Los Angeles’ defense for two years before coming to Nashville. In 2016, general manager Jon Robinson’s first year with the team, the Titans drafted one of his former players, outside linebacker Aaron Wallace. In the 2017 NFL Draft, Robinson gave Spanos the opportunity to coach another one of his former Bruins: Jayon Brown.
In his first two years at UCLA, Brown’s primary contributions came on special teams, where he earned the team’s Special Teams Rookie of the Year honor as a freshman. After now Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack tore his meniscus early in the 2015 season, Brown became a full-time starter, and at multiple positions. In addition to taking over for Jack as the team’s primary inside linebacker, Brown made five starts as a junior at 3-4 outside linebacker.
As a senior in 2016, Brown impressively led the entire Pac-12 in tackles, totaling 119. He also batted down six passes and made three interceptions. We all know that Jon Robinson likes to take players with a history of big-time production, and Brown is no exception to this philosophy.
What Robinson also likes, though, are players who are tough, coachable, and have a team-first attitude. He’s repeated those catchphrases over and over ever since he was introduced as general manager in January of 2016. According to those who know him best, Brown fits those qualities to a T.
Brown’s positional coach at UCLA was Scott White. The Scout.com 2016 Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year, White recruited and helped develop talents like Jack, Wallace, and Brown. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy spring-football schedule and talk to me about Jayon. When I asked about how Brown will fit Robinson’s mold, Coach White had nothing but good things to say.
"Nov 19, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins linebacker Jayon Brown runs the ball down field after an interception in the second quarter against the USC Trojans at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports“He checks all the boxes in those areas. He’s just a big time leader, and he’s obviously continued to grow as a leader. We have a saying around here, ‘Be the same guy everyday.’ Jayon is that; he’s always got that big smile on his face, that big personality. One thing he does is he makes the others around him better, and another thing he really does, as I told the Titans when they came to campus for his Pro Day, is contribute to winning. As football teams, all we’re going to be judged on is what happens in the win/loss column on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays. When you have someone like Jayon Brown in your locker room, he’ll help you win football games.”"
As former Titans linebacker Tim Shaw spoke about in his interview with TitanSized following the release of his book, success on special teams is all about effort. Players of all kinds—fast, slow, big, small, quick, strong, etc.—have had varying levels of success on special teams at the NFL.
At the end of the day, success in football’s third phase comes down to one thing: effort. Do you have the attitude that special teams is a privilege, or the attitude that it’s a chore? Brown, who draft guru Nolan Nawrocki says will become a “core special teams contributor” in the NFL, seemingly manifested the former attitude. I asked Coach White if he agreed. He does.
"“He was always trying to be a star in whatever role we gave him, and that was a true testament to him, his work ethic, and the character that he has. He’s a guy who, from the minute he stepped on campus, looked to make an impact and looked to fill a role, much like what he’s going to have to do in Tennessee.”"
Jayon Brown is much more than just a hard-nosed special teams player, however. He has great ability in coverage, similar to his former teammate who he replaced in the Bruins’ lineup, Myles Jack. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is surely overjoyed by this fact, considering how much the Titans have struggled in recent years to get quality pass coverage from their inside linebackers.
When you play the Carolina Panthers, you will be beaten by Greg Olsen at some point. When you play the New England Patriots, you will be beaten by Rob Gronkowski at some point. In the Titans’ case, they are consistently beaten, not by Pro Bowl caliber tight ends, but by mediocre ones. Ask yourself, had you heard the name C.J. Fiedorowicz prior to him torching the Titans’ defense in Week 4? Probably not.
While it didn’t necessarily need to be addressed with a high selection, the Titans undoubtedly entered the 2017 NFL Draft with a major need for an inside linebacker with the ability to cover not only tight ends, but running backs out of the backfield as well. According to Coach White, the Titans found their guy for that responsibility in Brown.
"Oct 8, 2016; Tempe, AZ, USA; UCLA Bruins linebacker Jayon Brown (12) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports“He was a guy that we had no issues or worries about matching up with [former Stanford and current Carolina Panthers RB] Christian McCaffrey, who just went in the top ten. He’s a guy that can cover tight ends, and we asked him to do a lot of that. That’s a big emphasis in terms of the linebackers that we recruit here; you have to make sure that your linebackers can cover underneath and over the top with tight ends.”"
Finally, the big knock on Brown during the pre-draft process, the elephant in the room if you will, was his lack of size. At 6’0″ and 231 pounds, he’s really built more like a safety. But, Brown stayed true to his position and performed every rep during the pre-draft process as a linebacker. While he acknowledges that Jayon doesn’t have prototypical size for an NFL linebacker, Coach White thinks his other skills will allow him to overcome it.
"“I don’t think that, all of a sudden, the field is going to be any bigger or that the ball’s going to be any bigger. The guys are a little bit bigger, but, for the most part, at the end of the day, it’s going to come back to your technique and know-how. Jayon’s a big time technician. One thing we really emphasize here when we develop our linebackers is technique. He’s going to have a lot of familiarity with that system in Tennessee because Lou Spanos was our defensive coordinator here, so he’ll be able to fit and have a lot of familiarity with the verbiage, terminology, and concepts of the scheme there in Tennessee. I think all of those things, when you put them together, will really help his development as he jumps into the NFL.”"
Fifth round draft picks don’t usually become impactful starters in the NFL, with a few exceptions like Titans LB Avery Williamson. But Jayon Brown’s work-ethic, leadership qualities, knowledge of the game, and athleticism could make his transition into the NFL a near seamless one.
He will always be undersized, and he will never have as much raw talent as other members of his draft class like Reuben Foster and Jarrad Davis, but Brown has just as good of a chance as any of his fellow draftees to become a productive starter in the NFL. Titans fans certainly hope that will be the case.