Even after a play is whistled dead, Eli Brown makes sure he’s still running full speed.
“I run just so I won’t have to hear his voice,” he joked of his linebackers coach.
Early in camp, Brown’s coaches were all over the redshirt freshman linebacker for “loafing.”
“Even if I’m not loafing, you still hear, ‘Eli, run! Eli, run!’” Brown continued. “He’s really got it in my head that I have to get to the ball.”
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This isn’t because Brown is an actual loafer, in fact his Kentucky coaches say the opposite. They’re so high on him that he’s penciled in at the starting weakside linebacker spot.
“Eli has a knack of getting to the ball,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said of Brown. “He has very good instincts. He’s always in good body position. He’s an excellent tackler. He makes a lot of plays.”
None of those accolades are a big surprise to his former high school position coach at Warren East, who has watched Brown pick up nuances of several positions quickly and effortlessly.
“Eli would understand what he was seeing on the field and could immediately figure out what he needed to do,” said Warren East’s Mike Waldrop, who coached linebackers and defensive line when Brown was a standout there collecting 50 tackles, including 10 for loss, his senior season.
Former head coach Steve Long was a defensive guru, which meant that one Friday night the Raiders would be in a 3-4 defensive scheme and the next week, they’d be in a 4-4 stack.
The lone constant was Brown in the middle of it all.
“Coach Long would say, ‘Eli, I need you to do this, but be prepared for this,’” Waldrop described. “And it was a given that Eli would immediately understand it.”
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound player was able to play inside linebacker and outside linebacker. He transitioned easily.
“When you have an athlete like Eli Brown on the field, you find places for him to play,” Waldrop said. “Inside, outside, wherever.”
Playing so many different defensive styles and having the experience of playing on the other side of the ball can only help Brown, Waldrop said.
As a running back at Warren East, Brown ran for more than 1,800 yards and 26 touchdowns his final two years of high school.
All of that has helped create a cerebral player who takes coaching well, Waldrop said: “He’s smart as far as X’s and O’s go. He’s just an all-around pretty good guy and he loves to play football.”
That love for the game became all the more clear to Brown, who sat out last season trying to fully come back from a high school knee injury.
So when Kentucky coaches are yelling at the linebacker rated a four-star by every major recruiting service, Brown just smiles.
It means he’s going to play football again. Sitting out last year “killed me,” he said.
“Sometimes I went home when there were away games and I’d go watch my high school play and I’d miss it,” Brown said. “Then I went to (UK’s) away games and you hear the fans and you’re like, ‘Man, I need to be on this field. I want to be on this field.’”
Unlike other redshirt freshmen normally relegated to scout team duties, Brown was a standby redshirt, meaning he practiced with the first and second teams in case injuries necessitated him playing.
Having that experience was a big benefit going into fall camp.
“This year, I already knew what Coach was going to talk about,” he said. “I already knew the base defense and everything, so I felt like I was ahead. I got to battle for a spot right away.”
That meant last week, as he was walking out of the locker room, his name was called to run with the first team.
“I knew at that point I had to go 110 percent because I can’t lose this starting spot,” he said, noting that there’s still almost a daily competition at weakside linebacker between him and friend Jordan Jones. “I’m doing everything I can to keep this starting spot and fighting as hard as I can.”
That’s why there’s no room for loafing. Brown is on the run even after the whistle blows.
Brown’s defensive coordinator has noticed.
“I’ve seen some very good things from Eli,” Eliot said of Brown, who picked Kentucky over Ohio State, Ole Miss, Penn State, Louisville, Western Kentucky and Vanderbilt. “He’s probably made his biggest strides this training camp that he has since he’s been here.
“He still hasn’t played a snap of college football and there’s still a lot to learn, but I’ve been very impressed with his work over training camp.”
Southern Miss at Kentucky
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 3