It wasn’t too long ago that Zach Brown was celebrating with friends and family at the Greene Turtle in Columbia after being selected 52nd overall in the NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans.
Brown, 22, is a former Wilde Lake High School star running back, wrestler and sprinter whose high school feats of athletic accomplishment once included ripping a top wrestling opponent’s shoes off during a match.
Before the draft, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock described Brown as “allergic to contact” because he claimed Brown would skirt around blocks in college, rather than go through them.
In August, Brown told the Tennessean, “I wouldn’t be playing in the NFL if I was allergic to contact.”
In the Tennessean article, the Titans linebacker coach, Frank Bush, said “There are times he takes off and explodes to the ball and closes on people and you go, ‘Woo!’ That’s why we drafted him.”
In the NFL combine, Brown ran a 4.5 second 40-yard-dash, one of the fastest times recorded by an NFL linebacker.
Now, Brown is competing for a starting linebacker position with the Titans, a position experts say he has a shot at.
After a recent injury to Titans’ veteran lineback Gerald McRath, the Tennessean noted Brown will have increased opportunities to play and to compete against veteran lineback Will Witherspoon for a starting job.
“[Witherspoon] is going to be out there at the weakside linebacker and we’re not going to wear him out,” said Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, according to the Tennessean. “(But McRath’s injury) does give us a chance to see the young fella [Brown] go out there and play with (Akeem) Ayers and (Colin) McCarthy, and just see how he fits. Is he out of place? Is he panicking? … It’s bad we had to lose (McRath) in order for that to happen, but to me, I think it helps us evaluate [Brown].”
In an Aug. 17 preseason game against the Washington Redskins, Brown led the Titans with six tackles. In the Titan's final preseason game on Thursday night against the Saints, Brown recorded a team high again with nine tackles.
The New York Times wrote in its preview for the 2012 Titans that Brown may share duties with Colin McCarthy a fourth round pick from 2011 in the nickel package. “Ultimately, the Titans would like Brown to unseat the shrewd, physical Will Witherspoon as their weakside starter, but first Brown must prove to his coaches (and Mike Mayock) that he’s not ‘allergic to contact’,” wrote the Times.
Titans blog Music City Miracles, wrote that Brown got “publicly crapped on” by talent evaluators before the season, but that “might have been just the medicine Brown needed. All offseason Brown has been working to become more physical in his tackling, and any strides he can make there will be a huge help since he's likely to be on the field a lot during passing downs.”
Throughout the preseason the 6-foot-1-inch, 242 pound, Brown has recorded 24 tackles, ranking him second overall in the league and first on his team in tackles, according to NFL statistics.