- With excitement in his eyes and NFL aspirations in his heart, Mark Brown sat in front of his television and waited. It was Sunday, April 27th 2003, and the second day of the NFL Draft. The final rounds of the selection process (4-7) were to be completed. By early afternoon, Brown began to field phone calls from NFL front offices interested in his services. Brown was contacted between Rounds 4 and 5. With expectations stirred, Brown waited patiently for his name to be announced on the ESPN broadcast. Pick by pick, he glaringly watched the names of other college prospects scroll along the bottom of the screen.
Round 4: He was put on hold.
Round 5: He waited.
Round 6: And waited.
Round 7. Then the line went dead.
“I was surprised,” Brown said. “I thought for sure the second day I’d get drafted, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. It was nerve-racking.”
While it was certainly a humbling blow to his ego, Brown kept his head up and still hoped to catch on to an NFL roster for training camp. His resume surely was reason to be optimistic. The New Jersey native who later matriculated and played his high school ball in Tennessee, was named Auburn’s most improved linebacker during his junior year and started every game as a senior, leading the team with a career-high 95 tackles, including 2.5 sacks. The Jets were intrigued by the 6-0, 238-pound linebacker and signed him to a free agent contract on May 2nd. Head coach Herm Edwards and staff noticed something special in the 23-year old rookie prospect throughout training camp. Brown knew he was turning heads that summer. Being noticed is what fueled him to work harder.
“Whenever you get reinforcement from the head coach, it’s always a good thing,” Brown said. “(Edwards) had confidence in me and it was definitely a plus knowing he was noticing me last year.”
Indeed, Brown showed enough potential for the team to find a spot on their five-man practice squad last year. After bouncing on and off the team’s practice squad throughout the season, Brown was activated on Dec. 17 and made his NFL debut on special teams versus the division rival New England Patriots. Brown was credited with two tackles in the game. It was Brown’s first and only taste of NFL action last season.
Following the hiring of defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson this offseason, Brown realized he needed to impress if he wanted to make the team this year. When the team had a void behind starting strong side LB Victor Hobson, Brown was called upon to fill the role this summer. Although it wasn’t an easy transition from his natural middle linebacker position, Brown accepted the change.
“I never played “SAM” (strong side LB) before,” Brown said. “It was an adjustment, but I’m used to it now.”
The Jets and their fans certainly hope so, as Brown is expected make his starting debut in place of injured LB Victor Hobson for the Week 12 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Brown admitted there would be some butterflies prior to Sunday’s kickoff.
“You’re always get a nervous-excited feeling before the game,” Brown said. “I’m not scared or worried about anything though. I’m ready to play; you never want to get it from a player (getting injured), but at the same time, I’m looking to show I can play at this level.”
What Jets fans should see from No. 55 this Sunday is great heart and effort from a young player looking to make a statement in this league. Brown discussed his strong points.
“My strength and my sideline-to-sideline quickness,” Brown said of his playing strengths. “Overall, I feel I’m a pretty good player.”
The pressure will definitely intensify for Brown as he prepares to make his first NFL start. But it won’t be from the most logical of sources. It will come from family and friends who have contacted Brown throughout the week in light of Sunday’s game.
“I’ve received a lot of phone calls this week,” Brown said, smiling. “People wishing me good luck and (telling) me how (excited) they will be about seeing me on T.V.”
Brown knows that while starting in the NFL is undoubtedly a prestigious honor, he realizes that the NFL is a business and that he still has work to do.
It’s definitely been a long road (to where I’m at),” Brown said. “I still have a long ways to go. Hopefully, I go out Sunday and show what I can do.”
With the Thanksgiving celebration this week, Brown is certainly grateful for the Jets’ investment in him. During this giving holiday season, Brown would like to reciprocate.
“You pay your hard earned dues (as a young player),” he said. “Being a (rookie) free agent, you have to work harder. Anytime you work hard for something, you appreciate it a little more.”
If Brown is in need of extra motivation this Sunday, he could think of his friends and loved ones watching from home.
Or he can recall how he felt during the NFL Draft last year.