Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer says Duane Brown is one of the most athletic and strongest players on his highly ranked football team. Center Will Montgomery says Brown has the best feet of any of the Hokies' starting offensive linemen. Seth Greenberg, the school's men's basketball coach, is so impressed by Brown's athleticism that he tried to persuade him to try out for that team this winter.
Brown will need all of those talents and more when he makes his first start at right tackle in the No. 8 Hokies' opener at North Carolina State in Carter-Finley Stadium on Sunday night. Only two weeks ago, the sophomore from Richmond was a backup tight end. Now, Virginia Tech is counting on him to keep all-ACC defensive end Mario Williams away from quarterback Marcus Vick, who will be playing his first game in more than 19 months.
"I'm pretty much going to be on an island on my own," Brown said. "I've got to hold my own."
Brown's rapid rise on the offensive line is probably a surprise to everyone but the Virginia Tech coaches. Beamer said he talked to offensive line coach Bryan Stinespring earlier this year about moving Brown to tackle. They decided to wait and make the move after this coming season, when senior tackles Jimmy Martin and Reggie Butler graduated. But when Butler struggled during his preseason audition to replace right tackle Jon Dunn, Beamer and Stinespring decided they couldn't wait.
"I think in the long run, this is what needed to happen," Beamer said. "We think this is what's best for our football team and for the player. We talked about it for some time. In the end, we think he's going to be a great offensive tackle. He was a very good tight end, but we think he's going to be a great offensive tackle."
Brown, 6 feet 5 and 278 pounds, will certainly be tested in his debut. Williams, a junior from Richlands, N.C., led the Wolfpack with 15 tackles for a loss last season. North Carolina State led Division I-A in total defense in 2004, allowing only 221.4 yards per game, had 33 sacks and allowed only 18 offensive touchdowns in 11 games. The Wolfpack sacked former Tech quarterback Bryan Randall 10 times in a 17-16 victory at Lane Stadium last Sept. 25.
"He's pretty good," Brown said of Williams. "He's pretty big and fast, but I've seen people stop him. I'm not too scared of him."
Brown, who said he lined up on Williams twice as a tight end in last season's game, said he figures the Wolfpack will try to take advantage of his inexperience at tackle.
"I'm sure they are" looking forward to playing him, Brown said. "Anybody that hears about a person moving to a new position two weeks before the game, I'm sure they're looking forward to it."
Beamer said the Hokies will try to help Brown by chipping Williams and defensive end Manny Lawson with blocks from fullbacks, tailbacks and tight ends. But North Carolina State juniors John McCargo and Tank Tyler and sophomore Demario Pressley are among the best defensive tackles in the ACC, so too many resources can't be spent blocking the ends, Beamer said.
"I think we've got to help him out some, sometimes with formations and sometimes with backs," Beamer said. "Whether it's Duane or someone else, you've got to give them some help."
Beamer said Vick also must help his offensive linemen. In last year's game, several of the sacks were because of Randall hanging onto the football too long. North Carolina State's dominance wasn't necessarily a product of its defensive linemen pushing the Hokies' offensive line back into the pocket; the sacks were more a result of blown assignments and miscommunication.
"I think we're ready," Martin said. "We're ready to get after them. It was never that we all just got overpowered. It was just one guy missing an assignment or two guys missing assignments. We were just never in sync last year."
The Wolfpack could throw different schemes and disguises at the Hokies this season after Steve Dunlap replaced defensive coordinator Reggie Herring, who left for Arkansas. "It's a guessing game," Beamer said.
The changes could lend even more confusion to Brown's baptism under fire. Brown's teammates are confident he'll get the job done.
"The best thing about Duane's situation is he was a tight end," guard Jason Murphy said. "He was right next door. He knows most of the calls because he was right next to the tackle."
Former tight end switched positions two weeks before Sunday's opener.