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Entering training camp, rookie offensive tackle Spencer Brown was an afterthought – a developmental prospect with a chance to contribute a few years down the road.
But when COVID-19 struck, leaving left tackle Dion Dawkins battling the virus from a hospital bed, Brown was thrown into the fire, earning valuable reps that have translated into promising play through two preseason games.
Brown made his debut last week against the Detroit Lions, playing 45 snaps at left tackle. He had some rookie mistakes, allowing two quarterback pressures, but overall, he had a fine performance. He showed off his athleticism in pass protection and flashed some power in the run game.
Dawkins returned to the lineup Saturday against the Chicago Bears and Brown got the start at right tackle, where he played 29 snaps. Brown faced off with Khalil Mack on most of those snaps and completely locked down the five-time All-Pro edge rusher.
Following the Bills’ 41-15 victory over the Bears, Dawkins was asked if he was impressed with Brown’s ability to hold his own against a player of Mack’s caliber. The 27-year old explained that Brown did much more than simply hold his own, heaping praise on the rookie – crediting a strong work ethic that allows him to be so impactful.
“I wouldn’t call it holding your own. Spencer works at his craft every day,” Dawkins said of his teammate. “Spencer’s just playing ball – whether it’s Khalil Mack, or whoever. He’s out there doing what OG’s teaching him and it’s showing. It’s showing week in and week out. He’s bouncing back from left to right and I’m proud of him. He has no fear.
“The kid is literally like a skyscraper, he punches everybody, and he plays ball to the fullest. He finishes, he’s got the swagger and I love the kid. He’s been doing his thing but I’d just put it more on his craft. He’s doing his craft and that’s what’s helping him succeed and that’s all you need to do in this league. Big salute to my boy Spence.”
Brown flipped back to the left side after Dawkins finished for the day and performed well there, too, for eight snaps before abruptly leaving the game with a knee injury late in the first half. Fortunately, Brown was back on the sideline with an ice wrap around his knee and was seen laughing with teammates, so it doesn’t seem like the injury is serious.
Several weeks ago, veteran center Mitch Morse said the only way for an offensive lineman to grow is to get in there and either sink or swim. And Brown has most certainly swum.
The 6-foot-8, 311-pound Northern Iowa product that only played three seasons of 11-on-11 football as an offensive lineman – and didn’t even play in 2020 – got right to work in training camp with the first-team offense on a team coming off an AFC Championship appearance. There’s little room for error, little room for rookie lapses, and Brown has made a strong impression.
After several weeks of battling with A.J. Epenesa, Mario Addison and Greg Rousseau, among others, Brown gained the confidence of his coaches and teammates.
“He’s held his own in there against some good competition and now with Jerry [Hughes] back it’s given him another look at what a veteran defensive end looks like from that side in particular so it’s been good for him to get the reps he’s gotten,” coach Sean McDermott said last week.
Brown isn’t taking these opportunities for granted, either. He knows reps will be tough to come by now that Dawkins is back, so this experience is valuable.
“It’s awesome, especially coming into camp and not expecting that situation with Dion going down. But Mitch Morse said it best; ‘Sink or swim’ and I don’t plan on drowning,” Brown told reporters after a practice last week.
“So it’s just getting in with the older guys and learning from them because they’ve been playing together for a while. Just getting in the rhythm with them, learning their calls and what they expect and just listening to coaches and taking my losses and taking my wins lightly and just moving forward.”
While Brown doesn’t have a chance of earning a starting job, his quality play has at the very least instilled confidence in his ability to fill in during the regular season should injury strike.
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