There are many reasons why FBS teams are allotted 85 scholarships despite never having more than 11 players on the field at any given time. JB Brown is one of those reasons.
Brown was expected to play more this season than as a true freshman in 2017, when he appeared in four games as a third-string defensive end, someone who could provide depth at a critical position for the Arizona Wildcats.
Then junior Justin Belknap suffered a broken foot before Arizona’s third game this season, requiring surgery and ending his season, and Brown suddenly went from backup to starter.
“When he got hurt, he pulled me to the side and said you’ve got to step up,” Brown said. “He’s very vocal, he helps me out throughout the whole game.”
Brown started at DE against Southern Utah and Oregon State, logging 10 total tackles in those games. Arizona has started PJ Johnson at end the past two games but Brown regularly rotates in at the position and against California he had his first career sack and forced fumble.
Not bad for a guy who came to Arizona as a middle linebacker but was converted to end late in his first college training camp.
“I played it a little in high school,” Brown said of his new position. “As long as I can try to compete and get on the field I’m here for it.”
Brown believes defensive end better fits him because “it’s more violent,” the result of having the opposing players “right in your face so you’ve got to be ready.” An example of how he’s adapted to the role came on his sack.
Lined up over tight end, with a blitz planned from the other side of the field, Brown quickly noticed his blocker turned inside. That opened up a path to Cal quarterback Brandon McIlwain and he made sure to “hit him with all my might.”
His hit knocked the ball loose, with defensive tackle Dereck Boles falling on it.
Brown’s play has been key to Arizona’s improved defensive effort the last four games, in which the Wildcats have held opponents to an average of 21.5 points while forcing eight turnovers. He credits being able to learn from Johnson—“he’s a great leader out there”—as well as defensive coordinator Marcel Yates for his development.
He also has gained valuable knowledge from regular text and phone conversations with older brother Jayon Brown, a former UCLA linebacker who is now with the Tennessee Titans.
“It’s just football, you’ve been doing it your whole life,” Brown said his brother told him after he was moved to end. “You don’t got to be scared or nervous. (The other team’s players) put their stuff on just like you.”