With all the undrafted defensive backs passing through the Lambeau Field gates in the waning Ted Thompson days, I pretty much stopped paying attention to who they were. It was just a blur: Hawkins, Dorleant, Gunter, Evans, Pipkins, Whitehead, Brice, and so on.
Maybe Brian Gutekunst, hired as the team’s general manager in January 2018, just got lucky, but already his poking around among unwanted collegians has had some positive results. You might have barely noticed a couple such players flying around in the Packers’ secondary against the Bears on Thursday. Cornerback Tony Brown deserves a closer inspection.
The Crimson Tide Trackman
Tony Brown has long been an acclaimed athlete – but as a track and field competitor. He won a silver medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2013 Pan American Junior Championships back in 2013, and he was named to the USA Today All-American Boys Track and Field Team that same year. Still as a Texas high-schooler, he had the fastest boys’ time in the nation in the indoor 60-meter hurdles, as well as the having the top time in the 110-meter hurdles.
A five-star football recruit out of high school, he went to the University of Alabama, where he competed in both track and football. After appearing in 13 games as a freshman, and starting in two, as a sophomore he started a fight while preparing for the Cotton Bowl, and was suspended for four games. His subsequent football career at Alabama never lived up to expectations.
Tony, however, was invited to the 2018 NFL Combine. He didn’t disappoint, as he registered a 4.35 40-yard dash time, and was solid in the agility drills and broad jump. At that time he measured 5’11 7/8” and weighed 199 pounds – above average for a cornerback. Then at the Alabama Pro Day event he met with representatives of almost ten NFL teams, and he was projected as an early Day 3 selection. Instead, he went undrafted.
Enter Brian Gutekunst. After being briefly on the Chargers’ practice squad in 2018, Tony was signed up by Gutekunst and the Packers just days before the 2018 regular season. He was promoted to the active roster on September 29, and wound up playing in eleven games last year, and starting in three of the final four contests as injuries mounted among the team’s DBs.
His stats in that limited capacity indicated some promise: 30 tackles, five passes defended, and two forced fumbles. Additionally, he finished tied for third on the team in special teams tackles, with six.
He also made some notable mistakes. After being thrust into action against the Lions in Game 5, and with the Packers making a comeback, he nicely broke up a pass to Kenny Golladay – but then was flagged for taunting. He followed that up the next week by being called for unnecessary roughness during a San Francisco kickoff return late in the fourth quarter of the tie game – though the Packers held on for a 33-30 win.
The 2019 Preseason
Fighting for a roster spot at this year’s training camp, Tony earned this praise from GM Gutekunst:
“He competes and I feel comfortable with him when he’s out there. He loves to play football and he hasn’t really backed down from any challenges since he’s been here.”
At the Packers’ Family Night practice, Tony got notice when he picked off DeShone Kizer’s sideline pass to Equanimeous St. Brown and ran it back for a pick-six, the defensive highlight of the workout.
Brown doesn’t lack for confidence. At practice, Aaron Rodgers said he likes to complete passes against Brown just to shut him up. As reported on packers.com, here was Brown’s take on how he approached training camp:
“So I know every day I have to prove to myself and beat out that person in my mind, whoever that person is. Yeah, every (instant) I’m trying to prove it to myself that I’m good enough to be in this league, that I am supposed to be here.”
By the time the roster was pared down to 53, Brown was sitting comfortably, alongside Tramon Williams, another undrafted cornerback who made good, as the backups to Jaire Alexander or Kevin King on the team’s depth chart.
The Packers, however, didn’t hesitate to insert Brown into the opener of the NFL’s 100th season. Tony was credited with 27 defensive snap counts, and he made the most of them, with five tackles.
Who’s the Fastest Packer?
If the current Green Bay team were to hold a sprint race, based on 40-yard dash times, here would be the likely results: 5th place, CB Ka’Dar Hollman (4.39); 4th place, CB Jaire Alexander (4.38); 3rd place, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (4.37); 2nd place, S Darnell Savage (4.36); and champion, CB Tony Brown (4.35).
The Packers have never had such a bounty of blazing fast players, or at least never so many who are holding down starting jobs. If the Bears game is any indications, the injection of raw speed into the defensive lineup is paying dividends.