Oklahoma hopes to serve up a couple of Tre’s in this year’s NFL Draft. And Jim Mora Jr. thinks NFL teams are going to want a slice of both Tre Brown and Tre Norwood.
Both could have returned to Norman in 2021. Both figured their next football needs to be of the professional variety. And Mora — former NFL head coach with the Falcons and Seahawks, former head coach at UCLA — tells SI Sooners that he likes what both Tre’s bring to the table.
Brown is a wildly explosive cornerback who isn’t shy about covering any receiver. Norwood is an intelligent and versatile safety who can play virtually any secondary position.
Brown, Mora said, is “spicy” in the way he plays.
“You know, he’s got athletic arrogance,” Mora said. “He doesn't believe anyone can beat him. And I’m not saying he’s an arrogant person, but he steps on the football field, it’s like, ‘Hey wait a minute, man. I’m the guy, not you.’ He’s one of those guys that, if he gets beat, he looks at his shoes. ‘It couldn’t have been me; it had to be my shoes.’ You know? And I like that in a cornerback.”
Brown’s performance at the Senior Bowl showcased his famously explosive closing speed and probably made him a lot of money.
“The opposite team’s receivers voted him the best cover corner,” Mora said. “You know, we see that on film. You talk about his ability to close, and that’s because of his great footwork, his great explosion and his fundamentals. He’s fundamentally sound.”
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Lincoln Riley said Brown’s growth at OU was due to him learning to trust more than just his ability.
“He came here very, very raw,” Riley said. “A guy that really didn’t trust and buy into technique or the intense preparation you have to have to be great, relied on his outstanding physical skills that he does have. So he was able to play but had a lot of room to grow. He’s gotten a lot better in those areas, there’s no question. He’s become a more committed player. He’s really zeroed in on technique a lot more throughout his career.”
Brown has two knocks, Mora said, for which NFL teams will downgrade him. One is his 5-foot-10 stature, which Mora said Brown “plays through” because he anticipates well and finds the ball. The other area of Brown’s game the NFL won’t like is one that he can actually work to improve.
“He’s a little bit handsy,” Mora said. “In college football, you can get away with a lot as a cornerback. I mean, officials, you know, the kind of the cat-fighting, the handsiness down the field, they let you get away with that. In the NFL, they do not let you get away with it. … I think they go totally opposite of the NCAA, because they’re trying to create points and they put corners at a real disadvantage.
“So Tre is going to have to learn to get his hands off people at a certain time; you can't grab, you can't hold, you can't look for those extra pushes and pulls that help you downfield at the moment of truth when the ball is coming.”
As for Norwood’s game, Mora has a unique and surprising comparison.
“I think he's got a little bit of Ronde Barber in him,” Mora said. “You know, I coached Ronde in a couple Pro Bowls and Ronde was like a Swiss Army knife, you know? He could play some corner if he was in the right system — it had to be three-deep or cover-two to where it wasn't man-to-man — he was one of the best nickel corners ever in the league.”
Barber was on the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s, made first-team All Pro three times, played in five Pro Bowls and set the NFL record for most consecutive starts by a defensive back.
“If you just watched him run,” Mora said, “you’d say, ‘Eh, he’s average.’ You know? If you watched him athletically, you’d say, ‘You know, there's nothing that really stands out.’ But he had a savviness and a smoothness to him, an ability to go find the football. That was rare, and I think Tre has some of that.”
Mora said Norwood is like “a chameleon” for his ability to change positions, but didn’t want to undersell his abilities.
“One of the intangibles for this Tre is his ability to find the ball and intercept it and get it in his hands, and that's what it's all about,” Mora said. “You know, making tackles after they catch it, that's one thing. But knocking it down, or catching it for an interception, that's another thing.
“And then you mentioned his versatility. You know, I think that he could potentially be a safety that comes down and covers (as) a slot corner or matches up on a back that's displaced out of the backfield or tight end that’s displaced out of the backfield. I think he's very intelligent. He's very smart and he's very savvy, I think he puts himself in position to make plays. You don't have the type of production that he had without having, you know, some football intelligence and football instincts — and that's what I really like.”
“I think the scouts are very impressed with his versatility,” Riley said. “And then I think everybody is excited to see as he continues to get further and further away from the knee injury he had that in the spring of 2019, and we all say that this year that as he continued to get more healthy and more confident, get his feet back underneath him and get used to being back on the field, he played better and better. Tre is one of those guys that is just pretty good at everything.”
Norwood stands 6-foot, so size isn’t a hindrance. He played corner as a freshman at OU before moving to safety. A knee injury on the first day of training camp in 2019 slowed him down, and he spent part of last season just regaining his burst. He eventually settled in at nickel back, and he ranked third in the nation in 2020 with five interceptions. Now that he’s full speed again, Mora thinks Norwood can be an asset in the NFL.
“He’s got this bag of tricks, you know? He's a little bit of a chameleon,” Mora said. “I think teams are looking for that. You look at offenses now in the NFL and all the different things that they’re doing formation-wise and how they’re getting their backs matched up on linebackers or on safeties, and I think that this Tre has the ability to just work his way around.”
As for Brown, he’s physical, he’s fearless, and as Mora noted, he plays his best in big games and in big moments. NFL teams have taken notice.
“Everything about him, to me, speaks success at the next level,” Mora said. “And especially, as you mentioned, that ability to close. … I think he’s gonna be a good player.”