NORMAN, Okla. — Orlando Brown Jr. heard that his Oklahoma teammates came to his defense on social media, but he didn’t scroll through those particular tweets himself.
“I’ve had to stay off Twitter,” the former Sooners left tackle said Tuesday after his pro day workout on campus. “There’s so many 12-year-olds in my DMs telling me they’re stronger than me.”
Only a truly freakish 12-year-old could knock out 14 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press. Unfortunately for Brown, offensive tackles aspiring to be drafted in the first round usually put up quite a few more at the NFL combine.
That 14 on the bench press, which undershot the number Brown predicted in interviews with teams and was the fewest among offensive linemen in Indy, wrecked Brown psychologically. His combine performance spiraled from there. He ran a 5.85-second 40-yard dash, the slowest among all players at the event. At 19.5 inches, he was the only prospect to record a vertical leap below the 20-inch mark. His 82-inch broad jump was seven inches shy of any other prospect. His 20-yard shuttle time (5.38 seconds) was tied for last in Indianapolis. The result? Mockery from fans of all ages, and from all corners of the globe. “I had somebody send me something in German,” Brown says. “I had to translate it. It got weird.”
On Wednesday, Brown got a chance to redeem himself. He got off to a better start just by stepping on the scale. “Brown, six-oh-eight-oh,” the man in charge of the measurements said. “Brown, 340.” In other words, the 6' 8" Brown, who weighed 450 pounds as an eighth grader and has spent half his life trying to shed bad weight, had dropped five pounds since the combine. The morning got better when the group moved on to the jumps. His broad jump improved from 82 inches at the combine to 89. His vertical leap improved from 19 inches to 25.5. Then came the 40-yard dash. He cut that down to 5.63 seconds. Afterward, he pondered how long he might have needed to cover that distance when he arrived at Oklahoma from Peachtree Ridge High in Duluth, Ga. “It might have been a seven-second forty,” Brown cracked.
Then came the moment of truth. Could Brown improve his bench press? He wasn’t first alphabetically, but he volunteered to go first.
Brown’s 18-rep performance won’t have teams penciling him in as a first-rounder—that’s still a relatively low number for an offensive tackle. Tackles, who typically have longer arms than any other position group, are not built for the bench press, but NFL teams would like a number in the mid-20s (Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, UCLA’s Kolton Miller and Connor Williams of Texas, the consensus top-three at the position, did 24, 24 and 26, respectively, at the combine.) Still, Brown’s improvement should break his fall on most teams’ draft boards.
Brown understands the mockery. An accomplished on-field trash-talker himself, he even admired some of the jabs. He was not particularly fond of this one from Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, though. Sooners receiver Marquise Brown leapt to Brown’s defense.
Baker Mayfield also stuck up for his old teammate, pointing out in an interview that “no sacks allowed” meant more than bench press numbers. (The QB also offered a particularly savage comeback to fellow Austin native Ehlinger when asked about the tweet on Wednesday.)
• BAKER MAYFIELD: THE SCOUTING REPORT: Robert Klemko’s series on the draft’s most interesting prospect.
Former Sooners tackle Jammal Brown (no relation) met Orlando Brown when Orlando was a child. Jammal had befriended Orlando Brown Sr., a 360-pound tackle nicknamed “Zeus” who played for the Ravens and Browns, during his NFL career. When the elder Orlando Brown died in 2011 at age 40, Jammal helped mentor the younger Orlando. That continued through high school and college, and after the combine Jammal visited Orlando in California to help re-center his protégé. Jammal, a two-time Pro Bowler in the NFL, knew Orlando had expected to do between 18 and 20 reps at the combine. He knew Orlando had hit those numbers while training. “He didn’t become Hercules in one week,” Jammal said on Wednesday. “He had a bad day at the combine. These [at the pro day] are his real numbers.”
Orlando knew something was wrong after his fourth rep on the bench press at the combine. He had practiced one breathing technique throughout his training, but he got out of rhythm around that fourth rep and never recovered. He never considered pulling out of the other events at the combine—throughout his career, adversity had made him stronger. He thought about his game at Tennessee as a redshirt freshman in 2015. Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett ate Brown alive early, but Brown got better as the Sooners engineered a comeback then dominated in overtime of Oklahoma’s win. But this time, he couldn’t right himself mentally. “It snowballed,” Brown says.
Brown said the numbers he posted Wednesday are more representative of what he has hit in training. He knows they still aren’t impressive compared to most elite tackles coming out of college, but Brown also knows he has three seasons of high-level game tape to help his case.
He is an interesting prospect because most tackles who get to the doorstep of the NFL bulked up over the course of their lives. Brown started massive and had to remake his body. And he’s still a work in progress. He’d like to play somewhere between 325 and 330. “I haven’t been there in a while,” he says. How long? “Seventh grade,” Brown replies.
Jammal Brown said NFL teams do not need to consider Orlando a 350-pound powerhouse who carries all his weight in his butt, thighs and shoulders. If Orlando Brown continues to shave the bad weight off his body, he’ll wind up a longer, leaner tackle whose 35-inch arms should allow him to lock out oncoming defensive ends.
The bigger issue with Brown might be his flexibility. He played at an All-America level in college, but he also played higher than NFL offensive line coaches would prefer. Brown sometimes looked like what coaches call a “waist-bender.” They want a knee-bender, because that allows the player to get better leverage against his opponent while generating the most power from his largest muscle groups. Playing tall might work against physically inferior players, but physically inferior players don’t make it to the NFL. Brown will have to bend his knees more to get the same results at the next level.
Brown considers himself a work-in-progress. He knows his body and strength aren’t at optimum levels, but he hopes the improvement he showed over three seasons on the field at Oklahoma will help NFL teams imagine how good he can be as he continues to improve his physique. “My potential hasn’t even been grazed yet,” Brown says. “I’ve still got a lot on my body that I need to work on. A lot of guys have already peaked.”
The question now is how high an NFL team is willing to draft Brown. The reward could be huge, but so is the risk that he won’t improve, and his combine performance probably caused more teams to emphasize the risk factor of the equation. He hopes his pro day forces them reconsider the potential reward for taking a chance on him.
“I’m not the fastest,” Brown says. “I’m not the strongest. But I like to say I’m the most strong-willed guy.”
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