KU football’s JB Brown continues to draw rave reviews from teammates, coaches

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

Kansas junior JB Brown runs through drills during the first day of Fall Camp on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.

JB Brown’s work as a weak-side linebacker in Kansas football training camp has frequently pitted him against the Jayhawks’ stable of powerful running backs.

“They’re a bunch of physical and fast dudes,” Brown said after a recent practice. “I’ve hit heads with Dev (Neal) and (Daniel) Hishaw a couple times.”

But Brown might be better prepared for that contact than anyone else on the roster. Teammate Rich Miller said at Big 12 Conference media days last month of Brown’s hard hitting, “I try to do what he do. I just can’t do it,” adding that the junior Bowling Green transfer is “bringing some type of tenacity to the defense.”

“His accelerations and his top-end speeds and those types of things are as good as a lot of guys on our team, certainly in the linebacker room,” linebackers coach Chris Simpson said. “So when you take that size of strength, and you pair that with his ability to run, there’s going to be a collision.”

So who wins those battles between Brown and Neal, or Brown and Hishaw?

“You know,” Brown said, with a smile and a laugh.

Neal welcomes the contact: “All of those thuds are good thuds, then they let go and we just finish on the play,” he said at KU’s media day Wednesday. “We have a mutual respect for each other, obviously, and that’s one of our brothers.”

“He’s been, so far, everything we wanted and what we thought he could add to our defense, and to our program,” head coach Lance Leipold said. “Works hard, is a physical player, great acceleration and speed.”

Brown, a three-year player at Bowling Green who racked up 53 tackles and three forced fumbles in 2022, doesn’t immediately slot into a starting spot at KU, with last season’s three-man unit of Taiwan Berryhill Jr. (the weak-side linebacker, or “Will”), Rich Miller (the middle linebacker, or “Mike” and Craig Young (a hybrid linebacker/safety known as the “Hawk”) all returning. However, with Berryhill nursing a hamstring injury at times in camp — and even when he’s healthy, working to become more of a secondary Mike option than in the past — Brown has had the opportunity for plenty of reps.

These aren’t likely to stop when the season gets underway, either. Simpson has said that a fourth linebacker with wide-ranging utility could theoretically earn more overall snaps than a starter. The way the depth chart is shaping up, that could be Brown.

Leipold said Brown does still have some progress to be made in terms of learning KU’s defensive system.

“I don’t want to say he doesn’t have it,” Leipold said. “There’s just little things that — things happen. It might be seeing things sooner. It could be motions and shifts that change calls or responsibilities, you know, just little things like that so it becomes a little more natural.”

Leipold added, though, that the instincts are there. When Brown sees a gap, “he doesn’t hesitate and he goes and he’s in the backfield, and he can run sideline to sideline for us as good as anybody at that position.”

Simpson characterized Brown’s ongoing immersion in the system as more of a “refresher” given that he got a head start by arriving in the spring, adding that he’s “doing a phenomenal job.” Both coaches agree that he’ll be valuable this year.

“It’s a pleasure to coach this group because they are very coachable, they want to be great, and JB’s one of those,” Simpson said. “But I would agree with Rich that — JB ain’t scared, we’ll put it that way.”


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