|Tony Brown's well-traveled route to the NFL was not always easy, but his hard work and determination have translated into success with the Tennessee Titans.|
Caught in a numbers game in Carolina, Brown was an early-season roster addition for Tennessee in 2006. The Titans needed to fill a major hole on their defensive line following a five-game suspension levied against former Titan Albert Haynesworth. Six players were brought in for a workout, but glowing marks from his former employer were key factors that set Brown apart from the competition.
"I called the line coach at Carolina and he really liked him and (head coach) John Fox really liked him…they just had a lot of guys," Washburn recalled. "We picked Tony up and it didn't take long to figure out he had a lot of talent. Once he got comfortable in what we were doing, he was a good fit for us."
Brown played in 12 games for the Titans that season, then started all 16 games in his first full season in Tennessee in 2007, finishing with 83 tackles (fifth on team), four sacks (fifth), 22 QB pressures and one forced fumble. He started all 15 games he played in for the NFL's seventh-ranked defense in 2008, leading the team with 24 QB pressures and 10 tackles for loss. He tied his career high with four sacks and added 73 tackles.
This season Brown ranks second on the team with two sacks and again leads the squad with eight QB pressures.
"He's really playing well, just ask any one of the six left guards he's played over and they'll tell you he's playing well," Washburn said. "I think he's one of the top defensive tackles in the AFC right now."
Brown's entry to the NFL was anything but a smooth ride. After signing as a rookie free agent with the Panthers in 2003, he spent 13 games on Carolina's practice squad before being signed to Miami's active roster for the final three games of his rookie campaign. After Miami chose not to re-sign him, Brown was signed by San Francisco, where he played in all 16 games in 2004. When the 49ers waived him prior to the start of the 2005 season, Brown suddenly found himself out of football.
Brown was re-signed by the Panthers on Jan. 9, 2006 and then allocated to NFL Europe's Amsterdam Admirals. That's where Brown was determined to earn his way back onto the NFL radar. He earned NFL Europe Co-Defensive MVP honors after recording 40 tackles, four sacks, one fumble recovery, one interception and five passes defensed, but it wasn't enough. Brown returned from Amsterdam to rejoin the Panthers and spent the first two weeks of the season on their active roster before being released – again.
"I couldn't really believe it at the time," Brown recalled. "They sent me all the way to Europe and I was without my family and everything. I busted my tail to make the team and then all of a sudden they released me and I'm like, 'What was all that for?' At the same time, it was great that I had the chance to come here. Coach Fisher and 'Wash' believed in me and gave me a chance and we've been rocking ever since."
Carolina's loss certainly turned out to be Tennessee's gain.
"There's no question," Washburn said. "He just needed to find a system that fit his talents. That's exactly what happened. He's worked hard at it and it shows on the field. He's just a good football player."
Washburn likes the aspects of Brown's game he brings to work each Sunday.
"He can explode and punch and that's something we value in our tackles," Washburn said. "He's really good with his hands, plays with leverage and has a good feel for the game. He's been a fierce competitor, a leader for us and our most productive guy on the line this season. He's done a good job against both the run and pass."
Brown plays the game with passion, yet shows no signs of being stressed throughout the week or during games. Sometimes he can even be seen dancing on the field between plays, entertaining the crowd with his loose approach.
"I remember the time when I wasn't even playing and missed the whole year, so you've got to have fun out there," Brown said. "I'm always a kid. I still love it, every day, all day. I know some people that wish they were in the NFL, so I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity right now."
Washburn said Brown's approach has a positive effect on his teammates.
"He's always in a good mood, he's jovial," Washburn said. "Sometimes people mistake that for not being serious, but that's just the way he his. Even when he's serious he's always kidding around. He's light-hearted on the bench, but he goes all out on the field. He competes – and that's not such a bad way to be in the first place."
As for his future, Brown believes his game has developed, but he's still not where he wants to be. That will come with more hard work, he said.
"I take pride out there," Brown said. "I'm not one of those guys that's just going to give up easy. Nothing's been easy for me to this point, but I'm in a situation now where these guys believe in me and I want to be a good teammate and play hard for them."
• Three-year starter at Memphis, as senior earned second-team All-Conference USA honors,
• Graduated in December 2002 with degree in sociology.
• Played linebacker and tight end at City (Chattanooga,Tenn.) High School and earned All-State honors on defense as a senior.
• Also lettered four years in basketball and baseball (first base and catcher). Helped basketball team to state title as freshman power forward.
• List of favorites: (movie) "The Five Heartbeats"; (TV show) "The Wire"; (actress) Halle Berry; (music artist) Prince; (vacation getaway) "at the house"; (sports team other than Titans) New York Yankees; (school subject) math; and (food) hot dogs.