It’s impossible to miss Cam Brown.
During Penn State’s media day earlier this month, the junior milled around the home-side bench — nearly a full head taller than some of his linebacker teammates, such as 5-foot-9 walk-on Frank Di Leo.
At 6-foot-5 and 223 pounds, Brown is an imposing presence. He’s the second-tallest linebacker in the Big Ten — behind Wisconsin’s 6-foot-6 reserve Izayah Green-May — and he’s the tallest linebacker that Penn State’s had in at least the last decade.
His teammates believe he’s about to be noticed in a big way this season.
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“He’s 6-5, but he plays really low,” said starting middle linebacker Jan Johnson, a full three inches shorter than Brown. “He’s fast, he’s physical, and he’s done excellent work in the offseason to perfect his craft.”
Brown has been a defensive afterthought the last two seasons. As a backup last year, he finished 11th on the team in tackles with 31. And he started just two games in his career, the last of which was Oct. 8, 2016 against Maryland.
But he’s been a popular choice, by players and reporters alike, to break out in 2018. His length allows him to key in on tight ends that few SAM linebackers can, and his work this offseason — such as increasing his time in the film room — has improved his speed and reaction time.
All that led James Franklin to offer some strong words leading up to Saturday’s season opener against Appalachian State. The head coach — who needs to glance up at least four inches to meet Brown’s eye level — declared on Tuesday that Brown has “differentiated himself and separated himself a little bit from the pack.”
His teammates don’t seem surprised.
“Cam Brown has a very big year coming up,” backup linebacker Ellis Brooks said. “He’s a very hard worker, and he’s going to have a chance to showcase what he brings to the table. You didn’t get to see a lot of him earlier, but he’s going to have a good year.”
A great season for Brown also means a good season for the reserves. Brown has taken it upon himself to become more vocal. He’s no Jason Cabinda replacement, but during practices he routinely pulls younger players aside to explain what to tweak and how to improve.
Just about the only time he’s angered his teammates is when he adopted a puppy — one, according to safety Garrett Taylor, that his roommates discovered was not potty-trained. Outside of that incident, this position group looks up to him — both literally and figuratively.
“What he’s done is taken that leadership role,” cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “He’s been mentoring those younger guys, trying to bring them up to scale to where he is and it’s paid dividends.”
Brown says he feels stronger and faster than ever, and he takes offense at anyone who believes linebacker remains a question mark. The 6-foot-5 ‘backer vowed he’s about to stand out, and not just because of the height difference. Unlike last year, he’s not taking a “next man up” approach.
“I feel like I’m playing with a lot more confidence,” Brown said. “I have to play with more confidence this year. And I feel I should be — I’ll be the first man up.”