TEMPE, Ariz. – When the Cardinals began offseason workouts, Levi Brown was relegated to conditioning and strengthening exercises as he recovered from last season’s surgery to repair a torn triceps tendon.
Brown wasn’t particularly happy about the limited role, even grumbling about it to local media.
“I guess they overheard,” Brown quipped on Thursday. “They got me right back out there, it seemed almost immediately.”
Brown was back at his customary left tackle position, taking on an increased workload as the Cardinals’ organized team activities (OTAs) concluded this week.
Contrary to past opinions, that’s a good thing.
It’s good for the media, who benefit from Brown’s intelligence and underappreciated, dry humor. It’s good for his linemates, who missed his voice and presence.
“He’s our leader out there,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “He leads us on the practice field, he leads us in the locker room and he leads us every Sunday so we’re very excited to have him back out there.”
Brown is also good for first-year coach Bruce Arians, who continually refers to him as “an elite player.” And he’s even good for the fan base, which finally gained an understanding of Brown’s importance to this unit in an absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder kind of way.
When Brown went down in the preseason, three non-playoff teams — the Dolphins, Rams and Bills — held a sack parade on departed quarterback Kevin Kolb early last season, sacking him a whopping 22 times in less than three games.
You can certainly make an argument that Brown has not lived up to the expectations that accompany a fifth overall pick (2007). But as one media member noted on Thursday, it’s tough to find a team that is happy with its left tackle play.
Like the quarterback position, it’s obvious when the left tackle isn’t playing well. But like the quarterback position, the left tackle position is extremely difficult to master.
“You can find anybody to run and catch,” Arians said. “You can find guys to play in the middle. But left tackle and quarterback? God makes them.”
Brown may never make everyone happy, but he’s so grounded and so pragmatic that outside expectations never faze him. On Thursday, he was asked if this season feels especially important to him, coming off last season’s surgery and with a new coaching staff to boot.
“It’s just another year,” Brown shrugged. “You can’t really go out and put too much pressure on yourself, be out there thinking too much and not play within yourself. I’m just going to work on the techniques the coaches are teaching me.”
It’s not the sound bite that TV stations want, but it’s exactly what the coaching staff wants to hear. And nothing Arians has seen thus far has swayed his opinion of Brown.
“When he’s at his best, I think he’s an elite player,” Arians said. “He’s knocking a lot of rust off right now after being out for a year, but I like his track record. I like what he has on tape.”
Combined with the improved play of right tackle Bobby Massie late last season and the drafting of guard Jonathan Cooper, the Cardinals have high hopes for improved line play.
Brown isn’t fully recovered from surgery yet, but he said he’s getting close.
“There’s still some differences in strength between the right and left arm right now, but if it gets sore, I go and ice it down and it’s usually back to normal the next practice,” he said. “It’s a good time to get out here, especially when the defense doesn’t have on pads. It makes it easier to use the arm without the fear of re-injuring it.”
Brown appreciated the praise he received in his absence, but he joked earlier this spring that there is still plenty of time for fans to turn on him once the season starts.
“I haven’t been back on the field,” he said. “Things could change.”
But Arians doesn’t waste time on Brown’s past trials. He said Thursday he hasn’t even talked about the past with Brown.
“I really don’t care. I don’t care with any player,” Arians said. “Everybody started over with a new slate. It’s what you do now.”