RENTON, WA - Drafted in the fourth round back in April, by definition, Seahawks cornerback Tre Brown would be classified as a rookie. This time last year, the Oklahoma native was in the midst of wrapping up his final collegiate season starring for his home state Sooners in Norman.
But during preparation for his first NFL season, Brown received interesting advice from renowned trainer Tim Grover, whose clientele list includes basketball legend Michael Jordan and teammate Russell Wilson among others.
"He told me that one thing I shouldn’t do is call myself a rookie because if you call yourself a rookie, that means you are allowing excuses for yourself," Brown recalled on Thursday. "Just go out there and be like you have been here before and just go out and play because at the end of the day, it’s just football."
Since making his regular season debut against the Steelers in Week 6 after a stint on injured reserve with a knee injury, Brown has taken Grover's advice to heart and then some. Playing like a seasoned veteran from the outset, he quickly usurped Sidney Jones as the Seahawks' new starting left cornerback and continues to make big plays for a rejuvenated defense each week.
Making the most of his debut, Brown played outstanding coverage to take away a deep ball from Ben Roethlisberger to Diontae Johnson, forcing a punt in the first quarter. Later in overtime, the 5-foot-10, 207-pound defender flew up from his zone responsibility to rock Pittsburgh receiver Ray-Ray McCloud on a third down catch, lifting him up off the ground and driving him backward for no gain to force a punt.
Still rotating with Jones in the next game, Brown allowed three receptions for 28 yards on four targets against New Orleans. Making his first career start against Jacksonville the ensuing week, he surrendered only two receptions for seven yards on five targets while playing sticky coverage.
Then on Sunday in Green Bay, while facing off against Aaron Rodgers, the three-time MVP only tested him twice and Brown made the most of those opportunities. He didn't allow a reception on two targets and made a spectacular play in the second quarter when the Packers faced 4th and 2 in Seahawks territory, smacking receiver Allen Lazard and registering his first career pass breakup to force a turnover on downs.
“Me and Jamal [Adams] were talking about it before, I kind of knew it was coming and he kind of knew it was coming," Brown recalled. "What actually delayed me was that Jamal put his hands on him, I think I would have driven that a little faster. Jamal slowed him down at the same time. Then I knew when Jamal took that, that guy was going to be open, and then Aaron Rodgers saw that I was playing off, so I knew that he was going to target that guy because it was 4th and 2. I was like, I have to make this play, so as soon as Jamal cleared that guy, that’s when I made the drive. As I was making the drive, Aaron Rodgers was winding up to make the throw, and it was perfect timing as I made the play.”
If Brown doesn't sound like a rookie with that explanation, well, that's because he doesn't. As he told reporters prior to his first training camp, he planned to arrive with a chip on his shoulder and ready to prove he belonged right away thanks to his attention to detail and preparation.
Before Brown suffered a sprained knee in Seattle's second preseason game, the feisty cornerback was doing just that. After opening camp near the bottom of the depth chart, he quickly started seeing action with the first-team defense in practice and maximized on his repetitions, including swatting away a deep ball while defending a much larger DK Metcalf in coverage.
At the time, Brown seemed to be on the fast track to a starting role and prior to Wednesday's practice, coach Pete Carroll made sure to remind media members of how frequently he talked the rookie up during camp.
"He’s doing a really nice job, he’s feeling confident, he’s playing like he’s played the whole time that we have seen him, and his game hasn’t altered at all," Carroll said on Wednesday. "That’s a positive, because if you remember I kept talking about him way back when. I always liked everything that we were seeing from him, and he had a couple or really nice challenges in the game and some really nice plays too.”
As he displayed in coverage against Lazard, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 220 pounds, Brown plays without fear, embraces physicality on the outside, and loves to get his hands on the football. He cut his teeth playing against elite receivers in the high octane Big 12 each week, many of which were far bigger than him.
Consequently, considering the talent he faced in a conference where defense is often viewed as optional on Saturdays, it shouldn't be surprising he has held his own against players well outside of his weight class.
“That’s what got me here, physicality and making plays on the ball," Brown said. "That’s something that I have always had. For me, being this size, I took that accountability myself. I have to be stronger and bigger than the rest of the guys because what other corners may have on me is size, but physicality, I can match that up with anybody. That’s something I take pride in, my physicality and speed.”
Crediting his experiences playing in the Big 12 for preparing him for NFL competition, Brown has yet to give up a reception of more than 15 yards in his first four games. Logging 232 snaps thus far, he's allowed seven receptions on 16 targets for a 43.8 completion rate, 44 yards, no touchdowns, and a 51.0 opposing passer rating.
If there's an area where he hasn't been as sharp, Brown has fallen short of his high standards as a tackler. While he has contributed nine combined tackles, Pro Football Focus has also charged him with two missed tackles in limited opportunities.
When asked on Thursday about where he needs to improve to take the next step in his growth as a player, Brown also indicated he wants to manufacture turnovers, an area where the Seahawks have struggled as a whole defensively. Only safety Quandre Diggs has intercepted a pass in the first nine games and after picking off three passes his senior year at Oklahoma, he wants to see those ball-hawking instincts translate to the league.
“I want to be able to create those turnovers for my team," Brown responded. "I’m making plays on third or fourth down or whatever it is, but I want to be able to make an interception and score with it. I always wanted to be that guy to turn that game around. I feel like I’m still a little bit hesitant in some ways. You guys probably haven’t seen it, but I see it a little bit in my game. That’s something that I want to do better, when I see it, I need to really trigger on it."
Reflecting on his journey early in his NFL career, Brown hasn't been surprised by his quick success. All along, he expected to be a factor in the cornerback competition from the outset, and if not for an injury, he easily could have been in the lineup for Seattle in the first few weeks of the regular season.
But if there's a silver lining to Brown spending the first five weeks sidelined, though he hesitates to call himself a rookie thanks to Grover's wisdom, the time off the field allowed him to learn from veterans such as Bobby Wagner, Diggs, and Adams. Now, after taking notes, he has put what he learned into practice to emerge as an unlikely starter for a surging Seahawks defense and he's just getting started.