Brown has undeniable value as a player: He's supremely athletic for his size and build, ranking as one of, if not the, fastest Linebacker in the NFL. His major knock coming out of UNC was that he was too easily taken out of the play, criticized for trying to use his speed to go around blockers rather than taking them on. "Allergic to contact" as Mike Mayock stated. He has been eating his words thus far in Brown's career, and he has said as much too. In his 2013 sophomore campaign, Brown racked up 91 tackles, 4 sacks, and an interception.
This play below was from the first Texans game of last season. Brown does an excellent job taking on, and then shedding the FB's block, maintaining ideal leverage and positioning to make a play on the runner, and finish the tackle.
Unlike many fast athletes, Brown plays to his combine speed (a blistering 4.37 for a 250lb man). He has also shown an increased willingness to play physical football and challenge ball-carriers with aggression as well as control. His is still guilty of overrunning plays too often, but that is something all the Titans backers have shown a propensity for, which makes you think coaching has been the weak link. Nevertheless, he should know better.
The play below is one of his less impressive plays from last season. Not only does he allow himself blocked by a crack-back'ing Tavon Austin, who is comically undersized next to Brown in the first place, but he gets lucky to avoid ejection with some extra-curricular jostling. He simply cannot allow himself to be taken out of the play by a WR like that, not for a guy who is supposed to be a difference maker on this Titans defense.
Hopefully next season we see more of the former play. Brown struggled with consistency last season, starting very hot and cooling off in a big way late in the year. Some media words may have contributed to his short-term benching, but he was simply a part of what was a hot mess at linebacker last season in Tennessee.
It's not all doom and gloom, however; Brown remains a skilled defender, and a guy who could potentially take this Titans defense to the next level if put in the right position. Take it with a grain of salt due to the source, but good old Chet had this to say about Brown:
"(Brown) has the whole package to be a great player in this league...An individual with the size and speed that he has, a 250-pound man that can run that well, obviously that’s going to work in your favor," Parlavecchio said, "but what I get excited about with Zach is his football acumen. He really has an innate instinct to play the position. He understands the position, almost in advance of his years.
"I think he can be a Pro Bowl-type player...He comes out every day focused and ready to go to work, so I’ve been real proud of his professionalism. He’s been real receptive to coaching, and I think he understands exactly what you’re trying to tell him."
Too bad that he might not have been getting told exactly the right things up to this point under Chet. That aside, I expect a lot out of Brown this coming season. He figures to be in a good position to move inside if the switch to a 3-4 does become a reality. Either way, look for Brown to make a big impact in 2014.