If there’s a player on Michigan's team with a bigger "Superstar-in-Waiting" label plastered across his forehead, with less to base it on, I must be missing something. But there he is. Stevie Brown. The next great Michigan safety. To this point the only thing we've seen from Brown is his remarkable ability to speed like a cruise missile toward some poor unsuspecting return man, and arrive with enough force to split the atom. As this is a prerequisite for being a starting safety in the Big 11 Ten, this is generally considered a good thing. But, with the exception of Browns prowess on special teams, his occasional foray into the defensive backfield, and his soul scarring torching at the hands of Appalachian State, the label seems a tad premature, doesn't it?
Well, not to the pundits and certainly not to the Michigan coaching staff. All signs point to 2008 at as Stevie Brown's arrival on the national stage as one of the premier young safeties in all of college football. All the intangibles are there. Brown was a consensus 4 star db recruit and named the 7th best safety in his recruiting class. He possesses outstanding speed, good coverage skills and hits like a truck. The biggest bonus, and the one that has the scouts drooling is Brown's frame. At 6 feet, 210, Brown moves like a Brandon Harrison (well, not quite, but damn he's fast). With his speed and frame, Brown is the prototypical modern day safety.
But what's all that talent and potential without a roadblock or two? As I'm sure everyone remembers, in 2007 things didn’t start out too well. Like this year, the coaches were enamored with Brown's potential and named him a starting safety long before he was ready. As a result, against Appalachian State Brown stood out more for his horrific angles than for anything positive he did on the field that day and was replaced by Brandent Englemon by the second half. It wasn’t until Notre Dame came to visit that Brown began to find any redemption or gain any momentum on the season. He then followed that performance with excellent games against Purdue, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. In the finale to the 2007-2008 season, Brown notched just a single tackle, but saw plenty of playing time. Despite getting kicked in the teeth the first week of the season, Brown worked hard to improve and eventually worked his way back into the safety rotation despite having two excellent safeties in Adams and Englemon in front of him. That resilience along with his continued improvement over the season and off-season has everyone expecting big things out of him.
They have to. With the loss of Adams and Englemon to graduation, Brown is one of the few Michigan safeties with any playing experience. Despite being mostly a special teams standout, Brown posted 28 tackles, forced a fumble, recovered two, posted 2 PBUs and an INT. Even though he went from starter to back-up in the season’s first game, from Notre Dame on his playing time increased and Brown saw time at both safety and corner. But this, and Brandon Harrison's resume, represent the entirety of the Michigan safety platoon's meaningful playing experience. Brown's emergence will be the key component to this key's either killer or mediocre defense.
For this defense to play at the level people are expecting, or at the level it will require for Michigan to compete bowl a meaningful bowl game, Safety must be a bedrock and not a work in progress. Now Brown re-inherits his starting position and the expectations he shouldered a year ago.
But this year, things are different. He is a year older, a year wiser, and infinitely more prepared to handle the rigors of the starting job. Look for Brown to be one of Michigan's leading tacklers this year and for Stevie Brown to be one of our 15 Michigan Players to Get Excited About in 2008.