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.
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 that expressed free agent interest in him were the Houston Texans and the Baltimore Ravens. Brown thought his best opportunity was with Houston, but the Texans were concerned that he might not be fully recovered from surgery. He spent only 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, Brown 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 is a humble, hard-working guy,” Harbaugh said. “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 Vikings in Baltimore, a highlight of the year for him.
It gave him confidence that he could compete against the best in the NFL. And his grandmother, Calvary Malone, was in Baltimore to see the game.
“She came to town for a couple of weeks,” Brown 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, Brown 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. But Brown learned he could play tough, too. He didn’t fumble a single time during the season.
Brown compiled impressive stats in his rookie season: 14 games played, 49 receptions, 524 yards, seven touchdowns. It was his consistency that got the attention of Harbaugh and the Ravens’ 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, Brown 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,” Brown said. “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.”