Giants rookie linebacker Cam Brown doesn't quite have a defined NFL position yet.
But no worries, as his versatility is sure to work in his favor as he goes about helping the coaches determine his best fit.
The Giants took Brown in the sixth round of this year's draft out of Penn State as a raw hybrid linebacker. Brown was praised for elite length and physicality but didn't necessarily have a defined positional fit.
For Brown, it's not the first time he's had to go into a situation unsure of his role.
Brown's primary position in high school was defensive end. But, going into his freshman year at Penn State, there were questions of what his positional fit was at the next level given his build, Penn State linebackers coach and defensive coordinator Brent Pry revealed.
"When we signed him that February (2016), we weren't sure if he would be an end or a linebacker," Pry told Giants Country by phone. "And when he got to our place, he was still pretty thin (197 pounds) and we said we'd give him a shot and see what he can do as a 'backer."
At 233 pounds, Brown does not have ideal bulk for an edge rusher. But as head coach Joe Judge said during a video conference call this week, the coaches are keeping an open mind.
“At this point, we're going to give them a chance to just go ahead and get their feet wet at the outside 'backer position," Judge said of the collection of linebackers that includes Brown. "We're not limited what we can do. We want to make sure we find out what every player can do well.”
In Brown's case, his Penn State tape could yield some clues. Brown was used at three different linebacker spots. However, his natural pass-rush ability encouraged the coaches to find ways to blitz him from multiple parts of the field.
"His first two years he was a WILL (weakside), and his last two years he was a SAM (strongside), and he also started at MIKE (middle) in our nickel package," Pry said. "With all that range he had, he could be in the [offensive] backfield from that WILL linebacker spot very quickly.
"He understood how to get on the edge of people and take advantage of what they were giving him so he had some natural pass-rush ability when he got to us and then we tried to find ways to send him."
Despite adding bulk to his frame in recent years, Brown might still be too light to line up against offensive tackles as an edge rusher in the NFL, at least not in a traditional 5-technique spot that would put him on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle.
However, Brown could find some success as a pass rusher if asked to attack the C-gap between the tight end and tackle given his strength and quickness off the snap.
If the Giants can get an extra pass rusher to a unit that has otherwise struggled in recent years, even better. General manager Dave Gettleman and Judge are both looking for new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to get creative with the scheme to generate enough pressure to move the quarterback off his mark and force errant throws.
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That's where Brown's ability to blitz from the different linebacker spots might come in handy. At Penn State, he produced 38 total quarterback pressures, 4.5 of which turned into sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
He was also regarded as one of the toughest players on the team.
"One time [head] coach [James] Franklin went around the room and asked, 'Who did you think the toughest guy in the room is?'" Pry recalled. "Cam Brown got a lot of votes."
According to Pry, Brown's calling on the gridiron was revealed in his first career start his freshman year against No. 4 Michigan on Sept. 24, 2016.
"We had five linebackers out going into our fourth game of the season against Michigan. Cam, as a true freshman at about 197 pounds, had to play 75 snaps at Michigan," Pry said.
Penn State lost the game 49-10, but Brown finished the game with ten tackles, including one for loss. He earned his way into a lineup that made a run to the Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl appearance.
"It gave us a really good dose of him as a linebacker, playing against a high-level team and what he's capable of doing. What separated him was his length and his physicality.
"His role on the team was critical. We went on after that loss to win nine straight ... and Cam was a big part of that," Pry added.
As a senior captain in 2019, Brown comes into the NFL with the characteristics that Judge and Gettleman have prioritized in building the team culture.
Brown also projects to find a role on special teams, and Pry said he would be surprised if Brown isn't on multiple special teams units early on.
Brown's potential as a potential core special teamer could make him a valued rookie very early in 2020 and a possible future leader considering the character qualities and toughness that defined Brown as a locker room presence at Penn State.
"He was able to have hard conversations with the staff and he was able to have hard conversations with his teammates," Pry said. "So he was really able to be a great bridge between the players and the staff."
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