Brown went under the knife at the beginning of North Carolina’s second summer session.
“I had my [right] knee scoped,” Brown said. “I had two-thirds of my outer meniscus – the lateral meniscus – taken out. It was just shredded over the years from kicking.”
The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder was sidelined for four weeks before being cleared to resume kicking just weeks before UNC’s training camp started on Aug. 1. The actual kicking was not a problem in the opening days of fall practice, but technique and timing were definite issues.
“I didn’t realize how much it had taken a toll on my mechanics and things like that until I started kicking again,” Brown said. “But I’m getting back into it now, so that’s good.”
Mechanics are a funny thing – timing is crucial, but rhythm may play an even larger role when success is measured in tenths of a second.
“You could hit two or three bombs out of 10, and that’s not good,” Brown said. “If you’re hitting four good ones out of five, then that’s a different story. The more I kicked and the more I got into it, the more I got my drop right and my leg swing right, then it kind of came full circle.”
Mark House and Trevor Stuart are viable options to replace the departed Michael Murphy at deep snapper, and Brown worked with Stuart throughout the entire summer, minus the four weeks of recovery. House returned to Chapel Hill for the second session of summer school, and promptly began working the punting group as well. The chemistry between the punter and the deep snapper is critical to avoid costly turnovers and momentum-killing mess-ups.
“Getting the timing down, that’s the biggest thing,” Brown said. “Just like with field goals – you want it to be as fast and as quick and as accurate as possible. It’s the same with punts, too. If we get a good snap, then we can get our footsteps right and get the ball off in the right amount of time that we need to.”
The junior college transfer posted impressive numbers in 2007, averaging 41.4 yards per punt. More than a third of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line, but amazingly, only three of his 64 punts ended up as touchbacks.
Due to youth on the punt coverage team last fall, head coach Butch Davis had Brown use directional kicks for a good portion of the season, which lowered his punting average. Those techniques, as well as increasing the time his punts stay in the air, have been offseason goals for the Californian.
“I’ve worked a lot on my hangtime this summer when I was kicking,” Brown said. “That’s going to help out our gunners tremendously this year. Hopefully we’ll get some big hits on those returners. I’ve talked to the boys about it, so I’m trying to help them out as much I’m trying to help myself out.”
Speaking of Davis, the second-year head coach is constantly involved with the special teams units at practice, and apparently that’s the case off the field, as well.
“He’s always in the special teams meetings, he’s always sitting there and he’s always coaching guys up,” Brown said. “He’s always helping the kickers out, as well as the teams, whether it be the punt, punt pressure or kickoff teams… He’s been around a lot of football, a lot of kickers and a lot of special teams, so he’s real knowledgeable about it.”
In his first Division I game appearance against James Madison last August, Brown unleashed a 58-yard bomb on his opening kick that was downed at the 3-yard line. But he wasn’t finished with his debut, as his next punt sailed and rolled 64 yards before being downed at the 2-yard line. Not bad for the first day on the job.
“That first kick against James Madison was real nice to get off,” Brown said, laughing. “But it was fun. I was nervous, real nervous. I had never played in front of this many people, and never thought I would, to be honest with you.”
After a full season of learning the ropes at the D-I level, Brown now knows what to expect and hopes to post better numbers than he did in 2007.