AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has seen a lot of ultra-talented freshmen in his 20-plus years of coaching college football.
The ones who stand out the most to him over the years have what he calls “the trifecta” — three main areas of preparedness that a young player needs to play well in his first year.
Few recruits, even the highest-touted ones, have it. But defensive tackle Derrick Brown does.
“He’s so emotionally mature, he’s mentally mature, he’s physically mature — that’s the trifecta,” Steele said Wednesday night. “It’s rare as a freshman to have all three of those.”
The 6-foot-5, 330-pound Georgia native didn’t arrive on Auburn’s campus until the summer. Less than three months after enrolling, Brown made his way onto the depth chart at arguably the deepest unit on the team.
Brown, who was rated as the No. 9 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite for the class of 2016, is the backup at defensive tackle to another former 5-star recruit from the Peach State, Auburn senior Montravius Adams.
In his collegiate debut, Brown landed on a fumble from Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams. One week later, Brown recorded half of a sack and completely stonewalled an Arkansas State running back at the line of scrimmage.
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) September 11, 2016
“Oh, yeah, he’s playing really well,” Auburn sophomore defensive tackle Dontavius Russell said Tuesday. “He had a really good play where it was a tackle for a loss in the pass game, so I think it’s starting to slow down for him, like it will for anybody that finally gets to play. I think he’s coming along really well.”
The physical maturity was obvious for Brown from the moment he stepped onto the field for the first time on the Plains.
“He’s much of a man,” Steele said two days after Brown’s debut against Clemson. “He’s a powerful man.”
The other two parts of Steele’s trifecta — emotional and mental maturity — are helping Brown develop into an instant-impact type of player for the Tigers. He’s been able to take coaching and make immediate improvements as a newcomer to the college game.
“Derrick is getting better every snap he is out there,” head coach Gus Malzahn said after the Arkansas State game. “He is very disruptive. He’s got a chance to be a very good football player.”
Even Brown’s fumble recovery against Clemson showed his quick learning of what Steele and defensive line coach Rodney Garner taught him in his first fall camp.
“We teach them out there that if you’re in traffic, get on it, curl up, don’t get up until you hear the whistle,” Steele said. “He followed that to a T. Go back and look at it on the TV. They had to come over there and get him off the ground. He was curled up like a little baby.”
Brown’s snap count quickly rose in Week 2 against Arkansas State. The Tigers relied on him to be a key member of pass-rushing units that went after the quarterback on 15 of the Red Wolves’ 33 passing plays.
The massive defensive tackle should get even more chances to contribute as Auburn heads into SEC play this weekend against Texas A&M. Brown has already proven to be an important player for depth, which the Tigers will heavily lean on when facing tougher competition in the coming weeks.
“He’s gotten actual, meaningful game reps, and when you watch those reps, he’s improved and improved and improved,” Steele said. “He does some things that … that …”
Steele pauses, almost at a complete loss of words for Brown and his trifecta of talent.
“He’s a very gifted young man.”