On Orlando Brown Jr.'s 17th birthday Thursday, he gave the Tennessee Volunteers a huge present:
His verbal commitment.
The 6-foot-8, 341-pound behemoth offensive tackle from Peachtree Ridge (Ga.) HS in Suwanee claimed more than 35 offers from across the country including Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Auburn, Boise State, Cal, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, USC and many more -- basically a who's-who of the nation's top teams.
He ultimately chose the Vols over the Sooners and Razorbacks.
That's quite an offer sheet for a consensus three-star prospect who is the 37th-rated tackle in the 247 Composite. While that tally of offers is certainly impressive and the Vols are glad to have him, several were handed out early and were in question as to whether they were currently committable or not. Brown weighed more than 370 pounds last year and really struggled with his weight, as well as his footwork and quickness. Though he's worked on his body to lose nearly 30 pounds -- and more than 100 since he weighed 450 in the eighth grade -- he still has a ways to go with shaping his body, as well as improving his technique/footwork.
While the son of the late NFL offensive lineman by the same name is still raw and has a ways to go to be ready to play Southeastern Conference football, he has unbelievable size and massive potential. Hopefully, he'll be able to continue to develop toward his ceiling over the next five years in Knoxville.
SB Nation recruiting director Bud Elliott's scouting report calls Brown a "work in progress." Elliott goes in-depth in breaking down Brown's potential and his weaknesses in this recent article.
I can see Brown being a starter at the BCS level, but expectations must be tempered. People will look at his size and his namesake and expect him to be a great player and a starter from Day 1. That's just not going to happen. He is a developmental prospect with promise, due to his size and newfound work ethic.
The young man nicknamed "Baby Zeus" certainly looks the part, but there is work to be done to get him to a point to be successful in the rugged SEC -- especially in a helter-skelter, fast-paced offensive system. As Elliott notes, Brown isn't most likely an immediate starter, but few at his position rarely are, anyway. The Vols don't feel it's much of a gamble to take his commitment and let him develop. Regardless of taking high school tackles this year, UT needs immediate JUCO help on the exterior line, and Butch Jones will continue to search high and low for help. A commitment from Brown doesn't affect that. UT needs multiple tackles in this cycle.
Brown is more of a long-term project with high potential and not close to a finished product, but he has the frame and bloodlines to be successful. The re-dedication this past year to changing his body is a really good start to having the work ethic necessary to excel in the SEC -- remember he's just turned 17 today. His father played 12 NFL seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, and there is a big upside to getting a commitment like this.
When you've got a committable offer from a school like Oklahoma [among his many], that should say something. The Sooners just turned a former high school quarterback prospect in Lane Johnson into a top-five NFL draft pick at offensive tackle. For anybody who doubts Jones' ability to scout offensive linemen, he and OL coach Don Mahoney identified a little-recruited prep tight end named Eric Fisher and got him to commit to Central Michigan. Fisher matured into the No. 1 overall pick in the draft as an offensive tackle this year. Brown's potential is encouraging, and the coaches recruiting him hardest have a reputation of knowing what they're doing.
As noted above and in Elliott's scouting report, Brown's footwork is an issue -- but even more so because he's probably best suited for a man blocking scheme and will have more zone fits demanded from him at UT in this offense. Some players at his age find something fundamentally and work the footwork issues out. Others, like Vols sophomore tackle Alan Posey, have the size but still struggle with footwork deep into their college careers.
The bottom line is this: It's easy to label a kids with freakish size like Brown's a "can't-miss" so they are heavily scrutinized to make sure it's publicized that they have a long way to go in their development. My opinion is pretty much everybody has things they need to work on and while Brown may not be an "elite" prospect at this point -- some things actually need serious work -- he's certainly an SEC-caliber recruit with a lot to work with, and Vols fans should be thrilled with his commitment.
Brown visited Tennessee twice in the past month and spoke highly of both visits. It became clear that the Vols were going to be a major player, especially since one of his closest friends, cornerback D'Andre Payne, is already a UT commitment. Throw in the fact that the Vols will likely lose their entire offensive line to the NFL after this season, and this verbal pledge makes a lot of sense from both sides.
Brown joins versatile offensive lineman Coleman Thomas as the first two offensive line commitments in this 2014 class for the Vols, and he is the 12th overall commitment in this hot start that has UT ranked No. 3 in the nation on both the major services, 247Sports and Rivals.
Welcome aboard, Zeus!