Under the Microscope - Seahawks LT Duane Brown

Duane Brown is preparing for his 14th season, with 195 career starts (186 regular season + 9 playoff) under his belt. He’ll be 36-years old during Seattle’s Week 1 matchup against the Colts. One might assume that a player this far into their career would barely be hanging on, or at least showing obvious signs of decline. But Brown is coming off of a season where he played 98% of Seattle’s snaps, with borderline dominant film. If not for the NFC West having one of the greatest ironmen of all-time in Rams LT Andrew Whitworth — who’s still playing at a high level at 39-years old, even while starting only 9 games in 2020 — more people would probably recognize what Brown is doing.

Aside from Whitworth, only two other tackles started games in 2020 at 35+ years old (Jason Peters and Demar Dotson, each with just eight starts). That means that Brown was by far the most durable and productive player in the NFL last season at his position, relative to his age. Yet he didn’t receive nearly the fanfare or notoriety as his peers who are in or near the overall ‘elite’ tier at tackle, such as David Bakhtiari, Trent Williams, or Terron Armstead. Based strictly on last season’s tape Brown certainly deserved to be mentioned alongside that group.

Film Breakdown

Play strength is another term for ‘functional strength,’ and it has a compelling case for being the most important singular trait for the position of offensive line. If not the top trait required for success at the position, it’s among the foundational two or three characteristics needed to consistently execute assignments as a blocker. Whether anchoring and using posterior and lower body strength to absorb contact, creating force through the ground, and reducing momentum to secure a pocket or creating displacement on a defender in the run game with lower and upper body strength, being strong in various ranges of motion and different parts of the body is critical.

Brown’s play strength qualifies as ‘elite’ relative to the rest of the offensive tackles in the NFL, and the examples on film are nearly endless. I tried my best to narrow down a few for us to dissect below.

Here are 10 examples of Brown’s ability to not just anchor successfully, but to do so exceptionally fast and in a dominant fashion. Brown doesn’t just stop the rusher in their tracks on a routine basis in pass-protection, he often turns the tide on the defender and becomes the aggressor, using power and rotational strength (torque) to knock them off balance and send a message that he is able to dictate terms to his opponent regardless of the situation.

Brown is also able to translate his strength with an element of power in the run game to generate movement when Seattle’s multiple run game calls for it. He uses refined technique and a variety of crafty ways to create leverage and generate displacement, tip, and knock defenders off of their feet. Here are 10 examples of Brown creating movement on the frontside of run plays:

Having elite-level play strength and power are great tools for a player but where Brown inserts himself into ‘elite’ territory is through his athletic ability and movement skills, which rival any left tackle in the NFL not named Trent Williams or Terron Armstead (who are in their own tier).

Brown’s ability to pull, lead, and/or track down smaller targets on the move really defies logic when you consider that he was 35-years old in these clips. Those instances speak to how special of an athlete he really is. Here are 9 clips showcasing what that looked like in the Seahawks toss series, screen game, outside zone, and even a jet sweep:

As with any ‘crafty’ veteran who sticks in the NFL for a decade plus, the nuances of the position often need to be pristine, and it is no different with Brown. Two areas I noticed when studying film were on the backside of run plays when the tackle is asked to cut-off a shaded defender or linebacker. Those defenders have the upper-hand in terms of leverage, so excellent quickness, footwork, and precise angles are necessary to execute these assignments. In these 14 clips below, Brown puts on a masterclass in the detail-oriented nature of winning back leverage on defenders and his skill in terms of technique on the backside of zone runs.

Mainstays at the position have a deep toolbox of ways to circumvent different situations, and continuing on that idea, Brown shines the brightest in how he is able to mix up his pass-sets to keep rushers on their toes. It’s a crucial part of having consistent success in pass-protection. Saints All-Pro LT Terron Armstead once gave me a great analogy for why this is so important as a tackle in pass-protection, “In the MLB, if the pitcher throws the same fastball to the batter, eventually he will knock one out. I don’t want to give the same set/hands because rushers can set you up.”

Brown, like Armstead and other top-tier tackles, have adopted this mindset and express it in their own way. In the cat-and-mouse game of pass-protection and pass-rushing (similar to cornerbacks in man coverage on receivers), there is a constant balance each side is trying to reach by sticking to the fundamentals and their base technique, while mixing in curveballs to win a key rep. Here are 9 clips that show Brown being aggressive, dictating terms to rushers, and messing with their timing:


Full *Official* 2020 Highlight Tape:

Conclusion

After studying every snap of Brown’s 17 games during the 2020 season and comparing his skill-set and tools to his peers, it became evident that despite the accolades already under his belt (4x Pro Bowler, 3x All-Pro), he remains under-appreciated in the mainstream conversation around O-line play. In the upcoming 2021 OL Masterminds event in Dallas, Texas that I am preparing for now, Brown’s film will be part of the rotation that we use to facilitate conversation with other starters across the NFL for ways to defeat pass-rushers and succeed as an offensive lineman.

In today’s NFL, with the value of having players on cost-controlled rookie deals, the age of rosters across the league has shifted downward towards favoring youth over experience. When a player like Brown is thriving with strength, technique, and craftsmanship it is always insightful to peel back the curtain and study the clues his success has left behind.

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