Class of '19 Player Profile: Sean Brown
There is no secret how important the 2019 recruiting class is to Jeremy Pruitt and the Tennessee Volunteers. In multiple interviews this season, Pruitt referenced needing to get his own guys into the program before they could compete at the level they wanted. While Pruitt and Company recruited far better than anticipated during their brief time with the Vols in the 2018 cycle, the combination of a 4-8 season and the handicaps resulting from an odyssey of a coaching search clearly hampered them. The 2019 class represents Jeremy Pruitt’s first class at Tennessee in which he and his staff have had a full year to assemble the players they want. Due to the talent of these players and the emphasis Pruitt has placed on wanting to get his own players into the program, expect to see the young men from this class on the field early and often. Here's an idea of what to expect on the field through Spring Ball and into the fall. We continue our Player Profile series by looking at Rome, Georgia product Sean Brown.
That Tennessee’s offense struggled at times through the 2018 season was evident to anyone that watched the team play. The Vols were severely hampered by atrocious offensive line play that led to Jarrett Guarantano taking an absolute beating and Tennessee running backs searching for gaps that never materialized. A standard step to take when trying to help a struggling offensive line, for any coach, is to get a tight end on the field and keep him in to block. That is precisely what Tennessee was forced to do far too often in 2018, and while it did provide some much-needed support to the offensive line, it robbed Guarantano and the Vols of a dynamic receiving weapon. Dominick Wood-Anderson is an incredible athlete with excellent size, good hands, and staggering speed for his size. The rising senior is a match up nightmare for opposing defenses as a receiver, while also developing into a very good blocker, be it on the line or even in the backfield as a fullback. Unfortunately, his development as a blocker meant that he was too valuable in protection and in the running game to be utilized much as a receiver. Former offensive coordinator Tyson Helton also did not do a good job of designing plays to get the ball into Wood-Anderson’s hands. Behind Wood-Anderson, the Vols used several players, though none made a major impact. Eli Wolf left this offseason as a graduate transfer bound for Georgia, and the Vols return Wood-Anderson, an expected starter, Austin Pope, a steady contributor last season, and Latrell Bumphus, who the coaching staff is still trying to find a position home. The Vols have a few other reserve tight ends on the roster, but the lion’s share of the snaps last season went to the quartet of players mentioned, with Wood-Anderson being the biggest impact player, by far. The Vols’ new offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney, likes to use tight ends. In his previous stint with UT, Chaney ran the offense that saw Mychal Rivera put up a pair of the more impressive seasons of any Volunteer tight end. Chaney will utilize the tight end position, often using more than one on the field at a time. That means that Tennessee needs someone to become a threat at the tight end spot besides Wood-Anderson, to free Wood-Anderson up, to help the running game, and to provide Jarret Guarantano another weapon. It is into this area of need that three-star, Coosa High School tight end Sean Brown enters.
In the modern era, it is easy to view a tight end’s contribution to the offense exclusively through what they offer as a receiver. It is true, it is easiest to get caught up in tight ends as mismatches that a clever offensive coordinator can exploit, utilizing their size and frame to become first down and red zone receiving threats. Dynamic tight ends are often used in spread offenses today split out wide, away from the formation, used to either pull a linebacker into an uncomfortable area out in space, or create a receiving advantage against a much smaller defensive back. However, as recently as even ten to fifteen years ago, in most offenses, it was perhaps more important that a tight end was a quality blocker. Under Jeremy Pruitt and Jim Chaney, the Vols have shown that they intend to use a more traditional offense, utilizing an I formation as well as multiple tight end sets where one tight end will be asked to serve as a lead blocker for runs. While he shows talent as a quality receiver, Brown will thrive in this role of blocking tight end for Tennessee.
Standing 6 feet 5 inches tall and tipping the scales at 250 pounds, Brown is another of the players that Jeremy Pruitt targeted in the 2019 recruiting class to make Tennessee bigger and more physical up front. Brown played both tight end and defensive end at Coosa, and watching him on both sides of the ball, there is a defining trait that comes across in Sean Brown’s game: This young man loves to hit. He really, really loves to hit. In fact, the best comparison to watching Brown’s highlight film from high school would be watching bugs hit the windshield of a truck going seventy on the interstate, and Brown is always the windshield. Every play of his senior highlight film, he leaves an opponent on their back, even when the ball was thrown to him. Brown is a clean player, but he plays the game with a nasty streak that coaches love from their guys on the line. If he plays the snap, he is going to deliver a de-cleating hit to somebody, and that edge and mentality will be welcomed and encouraged by his new coaches in Knoxville. Brown on tape is a superb lead blocker from the tight end spot. At times, he pulls across the formation, other times he leads to the outside on a toss or sweep, on occasion he sets the outside wall for a tunnel screen coming back inside, and still other times he launches straight ahead to take on a defender at the second level. Regardless of what is called, Brown is an impact lead blocker, one of those players that simply has a knack for getting his assignment out of the play, and usually flat on their back. Brown is a good athlete with surprising speed for his size, but that speed is utilized to close the gap to defenders, lock onto them, and drive them into the turf. Brown may be listed as a tight end, but expect him to be extremely popular in the running back room in Knoxville, as he leaves flattened defenders and running lanes in his wake.
As a receiver, Brown is raw but capable. He was split out wide at times at Coosa, sometimes as the lead blocker on a screen, but also serving as a big target on the edge. Brown is fast enough to pose a problem for most linebackers that would have to match up with him one on one, and big enough that a corner or safety will be at a severe disadvantage in a jump ball situation. Whoever is covering Brown, trying to break up a pass to him is the best strategy, because once he pulls the ball in, catching him and tackling him are two different things entirely. It cannot be over emphasized, Brown in a player that likes contact. For that matter, he likes contact because he almost always comes out the winner of those collisions. When he reels a pass in, Brown is getting up field and looking to run through or drag anyone between him and the goal line. Brown has good, natural hands and his routes need to be developed, but the freshman has enough raw size and talent to be a weapon for the Vols as a receiver the day he gets to campus, particularly if he can establish himself as a punishing blocker, which would net him more individual matchups against linebackers.
At Coosa, Brown played both ways, and it is worth mentioning that he shows promise as a defensive lineman as well. He uses his hands well, and his combination of size and speed meant that he was difficult for many offensive tackles to stay in front of. Brown delivered punishing hits on defense, flowed well to the ball, even through blockers, and showed an excellent closing burst. Brown showed the same type of mentality, the same attitude, on offense and defense. He is an aggressive player that plays hard and with a lot of grit. There is a toughness and edge to his play that was sorely lacking from many positions on the Volunteer roster last season. That style of play, in addition to his size and aptitude for impact, lead blocking, means that there is an opportunity for Brown to see the field this season. The two headliners at tight end for the Vols this season will be Wood-Anderson and fellow freshman Jackson Lowe, but Brown is versatile and likely the best blocker of the three. Brown will have a role in multiple tight end sets where he is leading run plays, as well as potentially getting looks at playing some fullback. Establishing himself as a superb blocker will not only help the offense as a whole, but it will give Jim Chaney the opportunity to break tendencies by throwing the ball to Brown. Expect to see Brown playing meaningful snaps early in the season, and for Tennessee running backs to be high fiving the big freshman after he opens holes for long runs.