Duane Brown (Getty Images)
If offensive linemen are the diesel-burning big rigs of the gridiron, then Alex Gibbs is a master mechanic. Like any good craftsman, he knows exactly what it takes to get the gears turning and the wheels rolling. That’s why when Alex Gibbs said the fleet needed an overhaul, the front office went out and got him a custom ordered, maroon and orange semi, with a die-hard engine and speed to burn.
Duane Brown was brought in with the Texans’ first pick of the 2008 NFL draft (26th overall). At 6’5", 310 lbs, he is a built like a Mack Truck without the trailer. It was his size and speed that made him highly coveted by the Texans coaching staff. In his post-draft interview, head coach Gary Kubiak said, "We have really been in love with this kid for a long time, he fits what we want to do. He is very athletic, which we want guys to get to the second level and do some cutting and those types of things. We think he is only on the rise. This kid is going to get better and better."
While many draftniks thought that taking Brown in the first was a big reach, the Texans war room generals had a plan. They knew they had to bring in a lineman who could handle the zone-blocking scheme and they needed more picks. By swapping slots with Baltimore and acquiring two extra picks, they were able to satisfy both needs in one fell swoop.
So what’s special about Duane Brown? For starters, he, like Texans right tackle Eric Winston, is a converted tight end. According to Virginia Tech’s 2007 media guide, he was moved from tight end to right tackle a mere two weeks prior to the start of the 2005 season and was named the opening day starter. In his first game at right tackle he faced none other than current Texans teammate defensive end Mario Williams. At his post-draft press conference, Brown was asked to comment about his encounter with Williams:
"I remember that night like it was yesterday. I was two weeks into the position; it was the opener and a night game at N.C. State. (Mario Williams) is a very intimidating figure. I held my own that night and it was the beginning of my transition. Being able to go against him in practice, he is one of the best defensive ends in the league. I think practicing against him will be great for me and will help me."
He started at right tackle for two full seasons before moving over to left tackle in his senior year. In those three years, Brown racked up 42 consecutive starts. In his senior season, Brown boasted an outstanding 89% blocking consistency average. By comparison, the overall first pick in the 2008 NFL draft, Jake Long, had an 88% blocking consistency rating in his final year at Michigan. While blocking consistency is a fairly subjective method of rating an offensive lineman, it does give an indication of how well Brown adapted to playing left tackle.
That ability to ward off defenders earned Brown second-team All-ACC honors for his junior and senior seasons. He also won back-to-back Richmond Touchdown Club Offensive Lineman of the year awards. Probably the most telling were the awards he was given in-house. He earned the President’s Award as the most outstanding leader on offense to start the 2007. He was also elected a weight room captain.
"In the weight room, I was a captain at Virginia Tech,” said Brown. “I motivated guys in the weight room to try to get bigger, stronger and faster. I motivated them out on the practice field, when it’s hot outside and people are getting down, I try to pick the tempo up. Just overall, I just try to motivate and do what I have to, to get better myself."
Duane is set to experience his fair share sweltering days of the Bayou City as the Texans are set to start training camp during the last week of July.
His athleticism goes beyond his 5.0 forty-yard dash (4.91 at his pro day). As a member of the special teams unit, he used his 28" vertical to block three kicks. He also caught three passes and scored a touchdown his freshman year. Going forward, his speed should allow him to get to the point of attack quickly, and his size should keep the defenders from sealing the hole.
Make no mistake - Duane Brown is one talented football player. He has the character, work ethic, and athletic ability to get the job done. Duane Brown may not have the flashiest pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, but for the Texans, he’s shaping up to a perfect fit.