Cornell Brown's locker has bustled with activity the past few days. Ever since Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick announced that Brown would start at outside linebacker in place of the injured Peter Boulware, Brown has had more interview requests than in his previous two seasons combined.
"It's pretty exciting to me," Brown said. "It's been a while since I've had this [attention]."
Brown, a former Virginia Tech standout entering his third season with Baltimore, will make his third NFL start Sunday when the Ravens travel to St. Louis to face the Rams. Boulware, who re-injured his right shoulder in Baltimore's final preseason game against the New York Giants, is listed as probable, but because he has suffered frequent shoulder dislocations, the Ravens are likely to limit his role to that of a third down pass-rush specialist. That means Brown gets his chance.
"He's had an excellent training camp," Billick said. "The defensive coaches have a lot of faith in him. He understands what his role is. We expect him to have a great game."
Since he was picked by the Ravens in the sixth round of the 1997 draft, Brown has spent most of his time playing on special teams. He was fourth on the team last season with 11 special-teams tackles. Even though he has appeared in every game during his two-year career, Brown has not had the limelight he commanded during his stellar career at Virginia Tech.
Brown was an Associated Press all-American pick, Big East defensive player of the year and Football News national defensive player of the year as a junior. He led the conference with 14 sacks, the most by a Virginia Tech player since Bruce Smith in 1983. In the Hokies' 28-10 Sugar Bowl win against Texas that season, Brown earned the defensive most valuable player honors for his three sacks. His senior year, he had 60 tackles and eight sacks in eight games to earn all-Big East first team honors.
But the Ravens drafted two outside linebackers ahead of Brown in 1997: Boulware, the fourth selection overall, and Jamie Sharper, a University of Virginia standout who was taken in the second round.
Now that Brown is getting his chance, what Ravens linebackers coach Jack Del Rio would like most to see from him is consistency.
"He drifts from time to time," Del Rio said. "I think partly due to the fact that he knows that Peter's the guy when he's healthy. I think he sometimes loses his focus because of that. We've tried to challenge him to think of himself as a starter and prepare like one."
Del Rio particularly likes Brown's toughness and describes him as being "country strong."
"It means a guy who probably grew up baling hay or something," Del Rio said. "He's got strength that when other people try to move him he's able to anchor down and throw people around. He doesn't appear to be physically as strong as he plays."
With the help of Bennie Thompson, Brown worked hard during the offseason to better prepare himself. Thompson, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, played next to Brown on special teams last season. He had Brown lifting, running and watching films with him beginning at 6 a.m., four days a week.
"Cornell has come a long way since he got here," Thompson said. "I think if he went to another team he could probably be a starter."
Thompson compared Brown's aggressive style at linebacker to that of two-time Pro Bowl pick Ray Lewis.
"Everybody knows how Ray plays the game," Thompson said. "Cornell is the same way, but he just doesn't get the recognition like Ray does."