FOXBORO, Mass. — Trent Brown was thrust into an unenviable position last November that would have caused lesser offensive tackles nightmares.
San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley would miss Week 9 with a fractured orbital, leaving Brown to switch from right tackle to the blind side, where he would be tasked to block Arizona Cardinals first-team All-Pro pass rusher, and 2017 NFL sacks leader, Chandler Jones.
Brown was solid as a 6-foot-8, 355-pound boulder.
He let up just one quarterback hit and one hurry. Jones recorded a sack in the game, but it was while he rushed the passer from the offensive right.
Brown has started two career NFL games at left tackle and let up just three total pressures and no sacks in those contests. He’s let up 58 total pressures, including seven sacks, in 26 career games starting at right tackle. So, in a small-sample size, he’s actually been better on the left side.
So no, Brown personally would have no problem starting at left tackle for the Patriots if he’s forced to replace Nate Solder, who left for the New York Giants in free agency this offseason.
“I’ve always played both sides,” Brown said. “I started out playing college left. I played left in high school. I really started playing right when I got to the University of Florida. But switching sides has never been a real big issue for me.”
Brown is among a group of offensive tackles competing for the blind-side tackle spot along with rookie Isaiah Wynn, Antonio Garcia, Cole Croston and LaAdrian Waddle. Wynn is the favorite as the 23rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but Brown has a shot. The Patriots traded a third-round pick to the 49ers to acquire Brown and a fifth-round pick on the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Brown doesn’t have prototypical athleticism for an NFL left tackle based on his pre-draft testing numbers coming out of Florida. He ran a 5.29-second 40-yard dash with a 1.82-second 10-yard split, 8.23-second 3-cone, 4.78-second short shuttle, 28-inch vertical leap and 8-foot, 10-inch broad jump. But what he lacks in agility he more than makes up for in length and strength.
In that game against Arizona, Brown was rag-dolling Jones and fellow Cardinals pass rushers Haason Reddick and Kareem Martin. Despite his testing numbers, Brown could shuffle out of his stance to mirror the Cardinals athletic edge defenders with ease. He might need to switch up his technique in New England, since Patriots offensive linemen typically like to kick out deep and wide to redirect pass rushers behind quarterback Tom Brady.
At the very least, Brown should serve as a swing tackle in the Patriots’ offense, capable of filling in on the left or right side.
“I’m an excellent pass protector and I get after it in the run game,” Brown said Thursday. “I don’t talk too much. You’ll just have to see on Sundays.”
And he doesn’t mind having to compete for a role.
“I mean, I was competing every year,” Brown said. “Every year I was there, somebody was drafted or brought in so, you know, I’ve just got to rise to the level of the occasion and do what I do.”