During spring football, just a few months after he first arrived at Kansas following a transfer from Bowling Green, linebacker JB Brown was asked whether he would rather rush the passer or drop into coverage from his spot in the middle of the defense.
Before the question was even finished, Brown began smiling and his answer was both delivered quickly and prophetic.
“I’ll do whatever I need to do to be on the field,” Brown told reporters then.
Fast-forward to today, two games into his Kansas career, and Brown has been on the field plenty during the Jayhawks’ first two games of the 2023 season.
Listed on the initial depth chart of the season as a second-string linebacker behind starter Taiwan Berryhill Jr., the junior from Hughes, Arkansas, suddenly finds himself on the latest depth chart as a potential starter, with only the OR separating his name and Berryhill’s.
Part of the reason for that is the health of Berryhill, who has been banged up in the early going and limited in both practices and on game nights. But instead of that becoming an issue for the KU defense, Brown has elevated his game to the point where the Kansas coaching staff looks at him as a capable option in those moments when Berryhill can’t go and as another potential defensive menace even when Berryhill can.
"What I saw on film that I really liked was his ability to rush and go get the quarterback..." — KU linebackers coach Chris Simpson on JB Brown
KU coach Lance Leipold said Monday that Brown has shown enough growth and reliability during the first two weeks of the season that the defensive coaching staff is starting to line him up in different spots, taking advantage of his speed and quickness all over the field.
At his core, Brown is a hitter. Whenever you talk to him about his game and strengths, he uses the word “physical” on multiple occasions and his teammates like to describe him that way, as well.
Earlier this year, starting linebacker Rich Miller said that Brown is such a vicious hitter — and so consistent with the pain he brings — that it inspired him to step up his game to try to match the newcomer’s physicality.
“It’s just what I like,” Brown said when asked about the physicality of football. “That’s that. Every time my jersey number gets called, I know I got to come in and do my job, play as hard as I can and do what I gotta do.”
Leipold talked a lot about Brown during preseason camp in August, often mentioning the 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior as one of the top performers in camp.
And with his production during the first two games of the season, Brown has backed up all of the attention and praise he received during his first camp as a Jayhawk.
He’s currently tied for the team lead in both total tackles (10) and tackles for loss (3), with one of those being a sack in KU’s Week 2 win over Illinois.
That was one of those moments where the coaching staff utilized Brown in a new way than they had shown previously. Midway through the second half, Brown lined up on the left edge where a defensive end might normally start. After the snap, his quick feet put the offensive tackle on ice and opened up a clear path to the Illini quarterback. The rest was easy — lower the boom and bring the pain.
Brown got up after recording the sack as quickly as the Illinois QB went down.
Moments like that were exactly what linebackers coach Chris Simpson envisioned when he first began recruiting Brown out of the transfer portal.
“JB’s a big, strong guy, runs pretty good and what I saw on film that I really liked was his ability to rush and go get the quarterback, blitz off of an edge, and the motor to chase things down,” Simpson said this spring. “He’s asked questions every day (and is an) extremely coachable young man. We’re excited to have him.”
And even more excited for the production that he’s brought with him.
“I think he’s played very well,” Leipold said Monday. “Obviously, he’s got a lot to work on yet and things, but he’s making contributions like we thought he could.”
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