MOBILE, Ala. — For the second year in a row, the Senior Bowl has featured a safety from the University of Illinois that has shown up, balled out, and increased his draft stock. Last year, it was Lions standout rookie Kerby Joseph. This year, Sydney Brown has been that guy and certainly has made himself some money from his performance in Mobile this week.
As soon as the first day of practice, Brown was turning heads with his ability to cover guys of all sizes from down in the slot and patrolling the middle of the field from his natural, free safety position. He was playing physically all week, not afraid to get in on bigger tight ends and receivers to attack the catch point and break up a pass, even at his 5-foot-10, 213-pound stature.
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Thursday’s practice brought tons of examples of that physical playstyle. The Illinois product was all over the field, making plays deep downfield when guarding receivers and tight ends in one-on-one drills and over the middle in goal-line situations during team drills and 7-on-7s. Part of that, Brown said, isn’t just about being physical but also being sure to play with the right technique.
“When you’re covering a bigger guy, you’ve got to just trust your leverage. You can’t play to their strength which is that they’re stronger than you,” Sydney Brown said after practice on Thursday. “To make a play on that ball, you have to just trust that you’re faster than them.”
On top of playing with all of the physicality required for the safety position (and more), Brown clearly is a very instinctual player. He talked about how he was able to read opposing quarterbacks based on how they would try to look him off on their three- and five-step drops.
“I just read where he’s taking me. He’s going to take me down the middle, he’s going to look one way and he’s going to come back the other. That’s what they usually do, especially when they’re not comfortable in a system like right now,” Brown said. “You just got to pick up on the keys and trust your instincts, that’s it.”
Reading quarterbacks like a book wasn’t the only way Brown was able to continue making plays on the ball all day during Thursday’s practice. The other part of the equation was reading where receivers lined up. He said that the receivers’ splits always would tell him a story and key him into the route they were about to run. If a guy lined up closer to the inside rather than split out wide, for example, there was a much higher chance of him running up the seam or toward the outside than there was of him running an inside route like a slant.
It’s pre-snap reads like those of both quarterbacks and receivers/tight ends which allow Brown to play with the confidence that he does. Add in his willingness to attack offensive players at the point of the catch, and it’s not hard to see why he was able to break up just about every pass coming his way all week.
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