Part of the magic of Lamar Jackson is the blocking of Orlando Brown Jr.
The second-year right tackle is son of a legendary NFL player
The Lamar Jackson explosion began last season around this time when the 21-year-old rookie Baltimore Ravens quarterback replaced the injured Joe Flacco.
An equally important though less spectacular explosion took place in New Orleans three weeks earlier, in October 2018, when rookie offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was thrust into the Ravens starting lineup after veteran James Hurst was injured in a game against the Saints.
Baltimore lost that day 24-23, on Oct. 21, but the Ravens gained a record 351 total yards of offense. Jackson took over three weeks later, led the team to 6-1 record and the playoffs.
Together Jackson, 22, and Brown 23, have helped Baltimore establish a glide and grind offense that has carried over to this season with the Ravens at 9-2 going into Sunday’s game against San Francisco.
We rave about Jackson’s speed and dexterity, about how he’s changing the way quarterback is being played. After the Ravens’ 45-6 victory over Los Angeles on Monday, Brown told me that while Jackson’s remarkable talents may seem groundbreaking for fans of a certain generation, this style of play is the only style he knows.
This is how he’s played the game, he said, for the last 13 years.
It’s a millennial thing.
“With me being one who’s in this generation, I’ve always dealt with a mobile quarterback my entire career,” he said. “With someone who’s a dual threat of some type, from Bake to Lamar, even in high school, with some of the guys I had.”
“Bake” is Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland Browns’ second-year quarterback. Brown and Baker were teammates for two seasons at Oklahoma. Brown was part of the Sooners offensive line that blocked for Mayfield during his Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2017.
“They’re very different types of players,” Brown said. “From a pocket-passer perspective, Lamar is way more athletic, everyone knows that, no disrespect to Baker.
“I love him,” Brown said of Jackson.
In the past, many offensive linemen would complain about quarterbacks who scrambled because they introduced uncertainty into how they had to block. In this NFL environment, uncertainty is good.
“The thing is, sometimes you don’t know where he’s going to be,” Brown said, referring to Jackson. “But that’s a good thing, because the guy I’m going against doesn’t know either.”
Brown watched Jackson close-up, first as a backup offensive tackle. Now he is one of Jackson’s primary protectors. Brown said Jackson’s genius is his uncanny ability to drop back, see whether an offensive lineman is being beaten or driving his man up field, react to whatever he sees and still keep his eyes downfield.
I asked Brown if playing with Mayfield at Oklahoma prepared him for playing with Jackson.
“Oklahoma prepared me a bunch for a lot of different things,” Brown said. “But Lamar, they couldn’t prepare me for that.”
Nor could life have prepared Brown for the emotional twists and turns and the ultimate irony that landed him in Baltimore with the Ravens.
As each aspect of Jackson’s game has been dissected, I’ve found myself thinking more about Orlando Brown Jr.
Brown is a second-generation NFL offensive lineman. That’s rare for anyone but especially rare for African Americans, whose presence on the offensive line in any significant numbers is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Brown’s father was Orlando Brown Sr., the irrepressible “Zeus” Brown.
A defensive lineman in college, Brown Sr. was a undrafted free agent from South Carolina State who was signed by the Cleveland Browns in 1993 and became the team’s starting left offensive tackle.
Brown Sr. moved to Baltimore with the franchise in 1996 — the year Brown Jr. was born. Brown Sr. signed with Cleveland in 1999, becoming the NFL’s highest-paid offensive lineman. That season a freak accident nearly ended his career when a referee’s flag struck him in his right eye, temporarily blinding him. He remained out of football until 2003, when he rejoined the Ravens.
When Brown Jr. was 10 years old, his father took him to the Ravens training facility and predicted that one day his son would be a Raven.
In 2011, Brown Sr. died of a rarely fatal diabetic condition. He was 40; Brown Jr. was 15. Now, eight years later, Brown Jr. is a fixture at right tackle, where his father played.
In the intervening years, Brown has vowed to uphold and extend his father’s legacy, even while playing in his long shadow.
Brown’s father played a much more physical style at right tackle; he prefers technique and finesse mixed with a heavy dose of power.
Brown refers to himself as an artist when it comes to his approach to playing offensive tackle. One must be when playing with Jackson.
By his own admission and by the number, Brown is hardly a study in athleticism. This can be a career kiss of death, especially for black athletes, who are often held to a high standard of athletic expectations.
During the 2018 NFL combine, much of the talk was about Brown’s poor workout. He was projected as a first-round pick but dropped in ranking largely because of his poor showing in Indianapolis. He ran the slowest 40-yard dash of any player there, did only 14 reps on the bench press and his vertical jump and broad jump were last among the invitees.
No one was happier about this than Ozzie Newsome, then the Ravens’ vice president and general manager.
Several teams passed on Brown; the Ravens did not. They used their first two picks to draft tight end Hayden Hurst and then Lamar Jackson. They used their third pick to draft Brown.
Two years later, Hurst is a staple in the Ravens three-prong tight end offense. The “unathletic” Brown is blocking for Jackson, the most athletic quarterback in the NFL. Brown has offset his lack of athleticism with technique, brains and a healthy dose of brute strength.
In a string of tweets after the combine, Brown warned NFL teams to ease up on the analytics, not to so quickly judge a book by its cover.
*”many evaluators will write off several OL because of his “lack of athleticism”. I’m here to tell you to pay attention to his film, figure out how he manipulates his blocks based off his tools, and don’t count him out cause he isn’t a Super athlete.”
In another tweet, Brown wrote:
* “I’m a guy that’s big as hell, long as hell. I grew up around football for the majority of my life. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great coaches and mentors. I learned how to play ball.
*”The OL position isn’t easy to evaluate … it’s easy to turn to numbers because typically your best blockers are your best Athletes. In my opinion it’s simple, OL is like a form of art. We all have different tools and abilities..
*”I use my length to help me recover. A lot of OL rely on there athleticism instead of developing a set of fundamentals you are confident in.”
With Orlando Brown Jr., Lamar Jackson and Ravens, the unspectacular becomes more spectacular each week.
They have looked spectacular in the last few weeks and will have to be spectacular for the next two months if they have any hopes of winning a championship.
Keeping Jackson out of harm’s way is the key to that. Nothing fancy. Nothing flashy — leave spectacular to No. 8.
“Lamar is great,” Brown said as he walked toward the Ravens’ team bus.
“At the end of the day, up front, our job is simple: Protect him to the best of our abilities, try to keep people as far away as possible.”