When Marlon Brown, the oft injured Georgia receiver, whose career in Athens ended with ACL surgery got scant attention at the NFL combine last spring, he didn’t let it affect his attitude. Then when he wasn’t drafted, he did not despair. His confidence remained high because of his belief in his ability and his love of competition.
Two of the teams which expressed free agent interest in him were the Houston Texans and the Baltimore Ravens. Marlon thought his best opportunity was with Houston, but the Texans were concerned that he might not be fully recovered from surgery. He only spent one day in Houston. While that was disconcerting, he still believed he could play in the NFL. Then serendipity struck in the form of a call from the Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh who encouraged him to sign a free agent contract with Baltimore.
His journey had begun, but there were no guarantees. Immediately, Marlon realized he could compete. He was healthy for the first time since his freshman year at Georgia. He had no responsibilities but to work, study and sleep football. Training camp was fun. He realized he was making progress. When the cuts were made, he was one of those left standing. After the third preseason game when the roster was reduced from 90 to 75, Marlon was still in possession of his playbook. Nonetheless he realized that when the dust settled, there would only be 53 spots on the roster.
At lunch one day, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around and a smiling Harbaugh was offering congratulations. He had made the team. He would play on special teams and was a backup receiver.
“Marlon,” says Harbaugh, “is a humble, hard-working guy. There are plenty of things he can get better at….route running and playmaking, but he stays after it and he made big plays for us. He’s a big, strong guy with body control. Joe (Flacco) can put the ball around him, and he can make an adjustment and go make the catch. That’s really valuable in the red zone.”
The Ravens gained confidence in him right away, realizing that he had big play capability. He scored the winning touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in Baltimore, a highlight of the year for at least two reasons. One it gave him confidence that he could compete against the best in the National Football League, and the other was that his grandmother, Calvary Malone, was in Baltimore to see the game.
“She came to town for a couple of weeks,” Marlon said. “She stayed at my condo and cooked for me. It made me feel good to see her enjoying herself, and I sure enjoyed her cooking.”
As soon as the season was over, Marlon hurried back to Athens to enroll in class at Georgia with plans to compete degree requirements in 2015. He signed up for 12 hours of coursework and is giving top priority to earning his degree in psychology. In the afternoon, he is hard at work on the Georgia practice field and in the weight room.
“You can always improve,” he said. “I won’t get caught letting up. In the NFL, there is always somebody poised to take your place.”
The first thing he noticed was that all the defensive backs in the league were fast and tough. Marlon learned he could play tough, too. He didn’t fumble a single time during the season.
His rookie year left Marlon with these impressive stats: Games played, 14; receptions, 49; yards, 524; touchdowns, seven. It was his consistency which got the attention of Harbaugh and the Raven’s offensive staff.
“You can tell, nothing is too big for him,” Harbaugh said. “He is always ready to go in there and make plays. I think he is going to have a good future for us.”
As he evaluates his successful rookie year, Marlon often reflects on his Georgia experience.
“I felt that when I got to the league, I had an advantage on the other rookies because of the fundaments I learned from Coach (Tony) Ball. He taught me fundamentals which have enabled me to compete and earn a job. My Georgia experience was very positive, and I enjoyed my time in Athens.”
Loran Smith is co-host of “The Tailgate Show” and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.