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San Francisco 49ers

Trent Brown on way to becoming elite RT for 49ers

Brandon Thorn

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San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

San Francisco 49ers right tackle Trent Brown began playing football during his junior season of high school, followed by two years at junior college (Georgia Military College) in an attempt to boost his grades in order to play Division I football. He transferred to the University of Florida in 2013 and appeared in 23 games with just 11 starts before being drafted by former 49ers general manager Trent Baalke in the seventh round (244th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Brown was essentially drafted due to his unmatched measurables (6-foot-8, 355 pounds, 36-inch arms, 10 7/8-inch hands, 5.29 40-yard dash) in hopes of being groomed and developed into a contributor. What has transpired since the 2015 draft has been remarkable considering the circumstances; Brown took over the starting right tackle spot in 2016 with 16 starts (one at LT), and has started each of the team’s first five games of 2017.

Once I decided to write this profile of Brown, I watched every snap of his from the 2017 season (five games) in order to provide needed context and a comprehensive look at where his skill set currently stands. I came away extremely impressed with his ability as a pass protector. Not only does Brown’s frame and tentacle-like arms provide him with the size/length advantage over every pass rusher in the NFL, his use of hands in terms of timing, placement and variance are impeccable considering his age and relative inexperience.

Pass Protection – Hand Usage, Patience, and Nuance

Brown mixes up his strikes predominantly using an inside strike, two-hand strike, independent hand usage and uncanny patience to bait rushers into missing on their first move:

Brown also uses deception in pass protection by giving the illusion of an outside strike that gets rushers to react, forcing them to declare their intentions prematurely, often negating their balance as Brown counters with his opposite hand, gaining first contact and securing the edge:

Brown cycles through executing aggressive two-hand strikes and patience that often throws off the rhythm and ability of pass rushers to string together moves. Here, he gets Cliff Avril thinking that he will be aggressive, but instead hesitates, forcing him off-balance, then initiates contact with his inside hand:

Brown uses independent hand usage to his advantage, often preferring to utilize the inside strike first, quickly followed by an outside strike, then latching both hands on the rusher’s frame and engulfing them at the point of attack. Once the rusher realizes he cannot work around Brown’s enormous frame, he does an excellent job at sensing their hesitation for the finish.

Notice Brown’s footwork here to transition from setting vertical, to stepping toward the rusher, then opening up his outside hip to invite the rusher upfield. This invites the rusher closer so Brown’s length and independent hand usage can take over:

What Brown did to Cardinals pass rusher Markus Golden in Week 4 of 2017 was almost cruel. Notice his pass set to win the half-man relationship and intersect Golden. Brown baits Golden using patience with his hands, forcing the rusher to declare. Once he does, Brown is in position for the two-hand strike. Golden is off-balance again and is easily pushed past the pocket. Niners quarterback Brian Hoyer has time to throw but winds up taking a coverage sack despite Brown blotting out the right side:

Brown also likes to use a two-hand strike to quickly end the fight near the line of scrimmage. This requires excellent timing and placement to execute with success, and with Brown’s length, not even the 35-inch arms of 6-6, 272-pound Kareem Martin stand a chance:

Pass Protection – Jump Set

Brown’s jump set is still a work in progress, however he shows the ability to explosively come out of his stance and eliminate space very quickly on pass rushers, getting on top of them with overwhelming length and quickness:

Because Brown is able to cover so much ground so quickly due to his size and length, jump-setting can wreck attempted stunts and line games before they can get started. Brown’s two-handed strike gets into the chest of Los Angeles Rams linebacker Connor Barwin so fast that he is unable to get around unscathed. The result is the entire right side of the pocket being secured:

Again Brown’s jump set covers ground quickly, with a well-timed and placed strike to Barwin’s chest, raising his pad level and impeding his ability to work inside:

 

Areas of Improvement

Brown has all the tools to become a dominant pass protector, but still has areas of his game to clean up, particularly using the two-handed strike. This can be a dangerous technique for offensive linemen to employ because when it fails, the result is often a whiff and lunge, without the ability to recover, leaving the rusher with a clear path to the QB. This showed up on tape against Barwin, a player with over 100 career starts and the necessary experience to take advantage of repeated techniques. Brown attempts a two-handed strike here and is late with his hands. The result is a whiff but thankfully the QB got the ball out quickly:

Later in the quarter, Brown attempts the same technique, but this time Barwin makes him pay with nifty hand usage of his own to swipe his hands and get a sack on third down:

Brown has demonstrated success with this technique, but needs to learn to be more selective with using it. Against experienced pass rushers in critical situations is extremely risky, something that Brown should learn to temper with more experience and reps.

The biggest weakness of Brown comes in the run game, particularly opening up and blocking down, or cutting off the backside. False-stepping when having to work to his inside at the snap, rather than explosively driving out of his stance to gain ground, is something that pops up on film quite often, especially as the game wears on and Brown’s stamina begins to fade. Part of this stems from his tendency to be late out of his stance when the offense quick-snaps the ball.

Here, Brown is late out of his stance on the quick snap, and false-steps with his left foot, causing him to not gain any ground and fall behind the blitzing linebacker, who blows up the pulling left guard:

Brown needs to help to secure defensive lineman Henry Anderson so the tight end can overtake him before releasing to the second level. Brown was on the ground 5-plus times in this Week 5 matchup, largely because he lunged at the point of attack instead of playing under control:

Targeting and hat placement is another area where Brown struggles, oftentimes aiming for where the defender is rather than where he will be. This causes him to fall behind in his angle when defensive linemen stunt or at the second level. Anderson stunts inside at the snap, and Brown is unable to adjust his aiming point in time to pick him up:

Here’s another example of Brown’s aiming points being too narrow, where he needs to expand and aim for where the defender will be rather than where they currently are positioned. This occurred in overtime, and should have been an easy seal block for Brown:

The 49ers quick-snap it again late in the third quarter, and Brown is late out of his stance and allows himself to lunge at the point of attack, with Anderson able to swim and avoid him. Brown again falls to the turf, missing the linebacker in the process:

So far this season, Brown has started out showcasing dominant traits such as size, length, power, hand usage and improved mental processing as a pass protector. Despite Brown’s concerns in the run game (tracks, angles, targeting and stamina), his size and power allow him to put together dominant flashes with a lot of room to improve in the nuances of run-blocking that typically come with more reps and starts.

There remains an element of uniqueness and uncommon development taking place in his young career that needs to be acknowledged as one of the more impressive stories in the NFL. With very little experience in high school or college, and just 23 starts as a pro, Brown is well on his way to becoming an elite player at a premier position.

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Thorn is a 10-year Air Force veteran with three overseas tours in the Security Forces career field. He began his career in scouting with former Denver Broncos GM Ted Sundquist, writing and co-hosting a podcast for The Football Educator. Brandon went on to complete two semesters with the Scouting Academy, and currently serves as the Football Content Manager of the Academy. He has contributed to Bleacher Report, ESPN radio, Washington Post, Inside the Pylon, and other entities across the football media landscape. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife Stephanie, son Luke, and golden retriever Riley.

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