EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Cam Brown has yet to step into the Giants' headquarters, but he already has a group of strong supporters he can turn to for advice.
It includes a pair of third-year pros in running back Saquon Barkley and cornerback Grant Haley, his former teammates at Penn State. But perhaps no one will help ease his transition to the NFL as much as Sean Spencer, the Nittany Lions' defensive line coach during Brown's four seasons in the program who now holds the same position with the Giants.
They all reached out to Brown after the Giants selected the linebacker in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, No. 183rd overall.
"From the start, honestly, I talked to Grant and Saquon, coach Spence, everybody on draft day congratulated me," Brown said today on Zoom interview. "Just reconnecting with them a little bit. Say and Grant, it was more so asking them for pieces of advice, bouncing quick ideas off them real quick. But I'm pretty sure more communication will go on as long as this goes on, as long as we're away from each other."
Although Spencer was not Brown's position coach, the two became close even before they worked together on the Penn State defense.
"Honestly, coach Spence, that's my guy," Brown said. "I was going to be recruited as a D-end so we had a relationship. Came to see me all of the time during recruitment in high school. It's grown and blossomed. I feel like I became one of the guys he could trust on the defense and one of the guys that I can trust in him, to go to, with problems or things like that. Our relationship is growing, and I hope it continues to blossom.
"Coach Spence, we used to call him the ultimate motivator. He's going to get guys riled up, his coaching style is energetic, he's out there with you, he's going to run around, he's going to crack jokes with you. He's going to yell at you, and he'll get on you hard, but you know it's coming from a loving place. With coach Spence going through different drills, like certain days we had a hunger drills where it was like each day you're working on things coaches feel like we need this week - like maybe tackling, maybe hand work, pass rush. With coach Spence, he was always there to correct those pass rush moves and things like that. I hope and pray we can get some more cross-training there so I keep up that relationship with him."
That will certainly happen, because at 6-5 and 233 pounds, Brown not only has impressive size, he has the big wingspan and good speed to make him a productive pass rusher. And Spencer should know as well as anyone how to get the most out of Brown's skills.
"When you're 6-5 on the second level, and the quarterback is trying to throw a dig, it's kind of hard when you've got to clear about seven to eight feet of height and length in the arms," Brown said. "For me, it's been getting into windows, it helps with the range. Even when you're diving through tackles that length allows you to get a little bit further than most."
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Brown played in 51 games with 26 starts at Penn State, including 24 starts in his final two seasons. His career totals included 199 tackles (99 solo), including 15 stops for loss, 5.0 sacks, 11 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Brown had a career-high 72 tackles (28 solo) as a senior and a career-best 41 unassisted stops in his junior season.
His ascendance took a path followed by many college players. Before he became a defensive standout, Brown made his most significant contributions on special teams.
"Freshman and sophomore year, it was how I made my money, honestly," Brown said. "It was how I got on the field. Freshman year, I played every special teams, kickoff, kick return, punt, punt return. Made some plays on kickoff and punt return. Sophomore year, I still was playing a lot of special teams, that was more so kickoff, punt, a little bit of punt return there. But that year, or those two years, I was getting my feet wet, trying to get the experience, trying to understand the flow of the game. Just going against different players, I mean every game at kickoff you really get to size people up. The game always starts and ends with a kick so it's kind of what I got used to and kind of how I started my progression in college."
Playing special teams is a job requirement for NFL backup linebackers. So, does Brown anticipate his Giants career will mirror his time at Penn State?
"Yeah, I do," Brown said. "I definitely understand that as a rookie coming in that I'm going to have to do and play all special teams. I mean it's a 53-man roster, you've got to play your role and that role might be in multiple places. I'm willing and ready to play."
Brown could line up at any number of spots, as he did at Penn State.
"My freshmen year I played the Will, the boundary backer for us which gets a lot of action," Brown said. "Sophomore year I moved to the Sam position while playing Will still. The Sam for us is almost like an NFL nickel. We sit on top of two, we're rerouting receivers, we're not really in the run game. Junior year I stayed at Sam and played Mike on third downs. Mike for us on third downs is our pass coverages, our dollar (coverage), we're mixing stuff up, blitzing whatever it may be. Senior year, it was the same combination. I bounced around. Even at the Sam position, there's no two wide, but I was playing the wide guy. Honestly, I played a little bit of everything. I haven't put my hand in the dirt but outside of that, everything on the second level I have played.
"I was doing whatever was needed, whatever (Penn State defensive coordinator/linebackers) coach (Brent) Pry asked me. If that was jumping from positions - from Will to Sam, to back to Mike, I feel like that versatility and that diversity in positions I've played has only helped me. I feel like I don't mind if people may have overlooked me, that's fine. I made my way to the NFL and I'm ready to show what I can do there and whatever the coaches want me to do there, pass rush, drop, coverage, whatever it may be, I'm ready to do it."
That's just what his support system – and the other Giants coaches – want to hear.
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