“Malcom In The Middle”: Top-Rated DT and Former 2-Time Champ Has Upgraded Heart of Saints Defense Big-Time

Photo Credit: Barry Hirstius, Big Easy Magazine

The New Orleans Saints signed All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas to a new 5-year, $100 million contract extension yesterday, effectively ending his 5-day hold-out. The franchise can now refocus and turn their collective efforts back towards their ongoing preparations for the upcoming 2019 NFL Season.

And that collective effort includes the impressive individual performances of several players who have clearly stood out thus far during the recently-completed first week’s worth of practices at the team’s 2019 Training Camp.

It would be fair to say that there has been one particular player whose high-caliber level of play has turned out to be a major surprise for many Who Dat fans; although, based on his achievements prior to his arrival in New Orleans, it probably should have been expected of him to start with.

That player is none other than “Malcom in the Middle”— Saints 5th year veteran defensive nose tackle (and former 2-time Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots) Malcom Brown — who the team signed as an unrestricted Free Agent back in March and who has had a phenomenal Training Camp up to this point.

However, while Brown wasn’t necessarily one of the available free agents this past Spring who was “on the radar” of most loyal or knowledgeable Who Dats, he has since provided the Saints’ defense with an immediate big-time upgrade for the very “heart”/interior of their reshuffled defensive line.

More importantly: Brown can also play the 3-Technique DT position that the still-injured Sheldon Rankins normally does; although he is likely to be the long-term replacement for the Black and Gold at the Nose Tackle/1-Technique position in place of former 5th-year veteran Tyeler Davison, who left New Orleans to sign a new deal with the arch-rival Atlanta Falcons.

New Orleans and Brown agreed to a 3-year contract a few months ago that pays the 25-year old a grand total of $15 million over 3 years, or $5 million per season. Clearly, the organization has gotten themselves a bargain with the former Patriots “run-stuffing” extraordinaire.

The 6-foot-2, 320 pound Brenham, Texas native (70 miles north of Houston) was the Pats’ first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft (32nd overall) and won two Super Bowl titles during his four-year tenure in New England.

The former Longhorn and unanimous 2014 Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year made 60 regular-season appearances as a member of Bill Belichick’s defense, becoming a vitally important contributor within the interior of their D-Line. Brown finished the Patriots portion of his blossoming career having accumulated 186 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and a forced fumble, all to his credit.

Brown was one of the more solid defenders for New England throughout the Playoffs a few months ago, and some observers felt that his capability to beat double teams by offensive linemen indirectly ended up becoming a key reason for the Patriots’ eventual success near the end of the season that propelled them into the post-season with momentum.

Brown played 20 of 65 snaps as part of a 3-man rotation at the 0/1 Technique spot in New England’s eventual 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII last February. Brown appeared in 18 total games (15 regular season and 3 playoffs games), and played in 41.3% defensive snaps, as well as 11.0% of the special teams snaps for the Patriots in 2018-19. He finished the Regular Season with 43 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 quarterback hit, and 3 quarterback pressures.

As it turns out: Brown comes to NOLA having been a disruptive force in the interior of many a D-Line, for the majority of his playing career up to this point.

And so far throughout the first week of the team’s current Training Camp, has bared out that reality yet once again.

“I don’t look at numbers,” Brown told the New Orleans Advocate’s Nathan Brown in an exclusive one-on-one interview earlier this week’.“I’m worried about what I’m supposed to do on defense. Whatever they do on offense, I’ve got to react to it, but I don’t worry about much beyond my defensive plays and what I have to do our there and our whole defense as a team.”

And although he’s more well-known throughout the NFL as a premier run-stopper in the middle of the D-Line, Brown readily concedes that his pass-rushing capability and his opportunities for putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks is something that he has strived to work on this year.

“I’ve got to rush the passer now if I want opportunities. I’ve gotta show I can do it,” he said. “They’re not going to put somebody out there just to have a body out there in a situation where they need somebody to go rush the passer. I need to prove I can rush the passer so they can leave me out there to do that.”

“Going forward, I just want to take that extra step to do more. Whatever it’s supposed to be — yards, third downs, touchdowns — I want to take that extra step in being better in that one category,” he said. “Then I’ll put it all together, and at the end of the day, we’ll be alright.”

Based on the first week of Brown’s Training Camp performance thus far. he appears to be right on track.

But that isn’t much of a surprise for those who likely didn’t realize that the 25-year old Brown emerged early as a 3-sport star-athlete in football, basketball and track, but very quickly made his mark as a 3-year starter within the interior of the Cubs D-Line, as he recorded 125 tackles and 24 sacks during the course of his high school football career.

As a direct result of his at-times dominating performances against smaller O-Linemen, the folks at Rivals.com listed him as a 5-Star recruit and additionally he was ranked as the 5th-best defensive tackle in the entire 2011 High School class.

It was then that several colleges attempted to woo him with a variety of offers, but Brown ultimately chose to remain close to home and accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Texas football program.

As a true freshman in the 2012 Season, Brown played in all 13 games, and quietly managed to put up 25 tackles. Brown then wasted little time taking over as the brand new starter at Nose Tackle for Texas during the 2013 Season as a sophomore, starting in all 13 games and finished that season with 68 tackles and 2 sacks.

However, it was during the 2014 College Football Season when it “all came together” for Brown.

The young man nicknamed “a quarterback’s worst nightmare” finished his junior (and ultimately final) season at Austin with 70 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks and was a first-team All-Big 12 selection by The Associated Press. Additionally, Brown earned consensus All-American honors and was even named a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player in college football), along with the Outland Trophy (best defensive lineman).

Brown finished that unforgettable year as the Longhorns’ season leader in tackles for loss, sacks, and forced fumbles; and was unanimously chosen as the 2014 Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts.

After his junior season, Brown eventually decided to enter the 2015 Draft, and as they say: the rest is history.

Now Brown has brought his talent to Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen‘s scheme, and not only is he a more-than-suitable suitable replacement while Rankins and back-up DT David Onyemata both miss time at the start of the season; but perhaps, more importantly, he became an immediate and “big-time” upgrade to the heart pf the Saints’ D-Line.

Additionally. It also means that having “Malcom in the Middle” has now given the Saints defense a big-time boost — as the Black and Gold attempt to make another run at a Super Bowl title with a young man who’s already proven twice before that he can do so — and clearly intends to do it yet once again in NOLA.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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