Malzahn: Auburn’s Derrick Brown ‘playing as good as anybody’

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              FILE - In this Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, file photo, Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown (5) lines up against Georgia during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala. Brown has been a play making, blockbusting force for No. 16 Auburn heading into the Iron Bowl. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Derrick Brown is college football’s other defensive lineman racking up big plays and national recognition. His Auburn coach and teammates believe he is Heisman worthy.

The defensive tackle has been a 6-foot-5, 318-pound wrecking ball in the middle of Auburn’s defense and the Tigers hope he have another disruptive game against No. 5 Alabama.

Brown isn’t drawing the Heisman Trophy hype that Ohio State end Chase Young is getting but he’s a finalist for a number of awards, including the Outland Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronco Nagurski Award.

Brown will perhaps be the biggest star in No. 16 Auburn’s game against the Crimson Tide on Saturday after returning for his senior season.

“He chose to come back, and he’s had his best season,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. “He’s playing as good a football as anybody in the country. I know that the Heisman is usually for offensive players and all that, but there can’t be too many better players around the country than him.”

Malzahn and the Tigers aren’t really promoting Brown for the Heisman, especially with Young being such a dominant force with 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles. But Brown has undoubtedly been Auburn’s best player all season, spearheading a defense that has kept the Tigers in every game.

A highly rated NFL prospect last year, he has been even better this season. Brown has 43 tackles, nine tackles for loss, four sacks, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Brown certainly has the attention of Alabama coach Nick Saban heading into a game the Tide needs to win if they have any chance of returning to the College Football Playoff.

Saban said Auburn’s defensive line led by Brown and end Marlon Davidson is without question the best the Tide have faced this season. Brown gets high praise from Saban, who had a similarly dominant interior lineman last year in Quinnen Williams.

“He’s had a huge impact on just about every game in my opinion,” Saban said. “We’ve always thought a lot about him as a player and had a tremendous amount of respect for him. But he’s got great initial quickness. He plays with a lot of power. Uses his hands well.

“He can disengage from blockers very quickly and push the pocket really well with the power rush. He’s a pretty complete player and as good a player as we’ve played against for a while around here as an inside player.”

Brown has come up big in some of Auburn’s biggest games. He had a season-high seven tackles against No. 1 LSU, six against No. 4 Georgia and recovered two fumbles against No. 8 Florida, returning one 42 yards before stumbling on his way to a possible touchdown.

Alabama center Landon Dickerson will line up opposite him Saturday, though he’ll likely often get help.

“He’s a big, strong, explosive guy,” Dickerson said. “He’s got a lot of good moves to shed blocks, even in pass rush.”

Brown and Davidson have been competing to see who can collect more SEC defensive lineman of the week honors. Davidson has won four this season, Brown three.

The roommates joke about winning that competition.

“I’ve got one shot Saturday,” Brown told him. Davidson leaned over and whispered, “I’m going to win.”

Davidson said there is no advice he could Dickerson or any other offensive lineman that has to block Brown.

“Just try to stay in his way. That’s tough, that is a big guy,” Davidson said. “He lifts a lot of weight. I see it every day. I mean, just seeing how he just manhandles people, man, it’s impressive.”

Brown cites some work he’s done off the field as one factor in his improvement. He, Davidson and linebacker Nick Coe have all been taking a Taekwondo class as an elective.

A video recently surfaced on social media of the massive Brown leaping into the air for a spinning kick. He believes Taekwondo has helped his body control on the field.

“It’s actually crazy, being able to control your body and how little control that you actually know that you have over your body,” Brown said.

No one has had much luck controlling Brown this season.