Virginia linebacker Elliott Brown looks to make good on second chances
Elliott Brown was only on the field for 295 of Virginia’s 3,396 defensive snaps – doing the math, 8.7 percent – over his four years in Charlottesville.
With starting linebackers Charles Snowden and Zane Zandier looking for NFL jobs this spring, Brown took advantage of the NCAA’s move to give college players an extra year of eligibility for the 2020 pandemic year to return for a fifth season.
But first, he had to prove something to coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Mendenhall told reporters last week that he told each of the nine players who had expressed an interest in returning for a fifth season – the list includes defensive ends Mandy Alonso and Adeeb Atariwa, free safety Joey Blount, cornerbacks De’Vante Cross and Nick Grant, offensive linemen Chris Glaser and Ryan Nelson and wideout Ra’Shaun Henry – that it wasn’t an automatic that he’d just let anybody who wanted to come back to use that extra year.
“When I presented that option for those players, it was a blunt conversation, but they weren’t to come back unless they were passionate about becoming more than they already were, and helping the team become more than it already was. Otherwise, it wasn’t OK for them to come back,” Mendenhall said.
Pretty harsh, right?
Actually, not so much, to hear the 6’5”, 225-pound Brown tell it.
“i just saw an even bigger opportunity,” Brown said. “We still had depth in the linebacker room, but as you guys know Zane left, Charles is gone, so I figured, you know, working along with Charles and along with Noah (Taylor), we’ve all progressed at a decent level, close to one another, so I figured if i come back this year, get better than I was last year, I can reach my goals and help this team win as many games as possible.”
Brown did get a career-high 124 snaps in 2020, with 11 QB pressures on 63 pass rush snaps, seven tackles on 61 run and pass coverage snaps, and just one reception on 21 pass coverage snaps.
With age and experience, Brown figures to be an important contributor to a retooled Virginia defense in 2021, expected to get snaps both inside and on the edge.
“Now that i’m older, i kind of understand where everyone’s supposed to be, what they’re supposed to do, so you can probably expect me to see me inside, to the boundary, to space to the field,” Brown said. “In this program, by learning the playbook, which is hard in itself, but now that I’ve got it all down, you can expect to see me anywhere.”
And he’s working toward living up to Mendenhall’s expectations set down before he was allowed to return.
“I kind of have a mindset that it’s not if, but when, so I knew at some point in time, if I kept working, kept my head down, I’m going to make some plays, I’m going to be here in the future,” Brown said. “I have no doubt in my mind, because i’m confident in myself, and i know I can go as a football player, so i was like, it’s only a matter of time.”
Story by Chris Graham