- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

INDIANAPOLIS Alex Brown tolerates comparisons to Jevon Kearse, the "Freak" who preceded him at the University of Florida and now stars in the NFL, but he humbly declines when the conversation turns to the Washington Redskins' future Hall of Fame defensive end.
"Bruce Smith?" Brown said meekly this weekend at the NFL Scouting Combine. "Please don't compare me to him."
It's not the comparison so much as what Brown, a senior who departs Florida with a school-record 33 sacks, might give the Redskins if they select him in next month's NFL Draft. With Smith turning 39 in June and preparing to play his 18th season, Washington needs a young end to alternate with Smith and later replace him in the starting lineup.
That player might be Brown, 22, whose 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame and outstanding speed make him an intriguing prospect at right end, Smith's position. Throw in the Florida connection to new Redskins coach Steve Spurrier and the fact that motivation issues have dropped his stock into the late first or second round and he just might end up learning from one of the best.
"That would be great," Brown said. "To work with a Hall of Famer, to work with somebody so good, so talented, so smart, has so much knowledge of the game to work with him for a year and learn some the things that he has to offer, it would be great. That would elevate my game."
Chris Samuels, the Redskins' left offensive tackle, certainly believes battling Smith in practice has raised his play. In just his second NFL season out of Alabama, Samuels earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. Incidentally, Brown considers Samuels the toughest blocker he has faced.
Asked how he fared, Brown admitted: "Horrible. He's the third pick in the draft [in 2000]. I was a sophomore [in 1999]. He slammed me almost every play. But I'll meet him again."
Or play alongside him and reunite with Spurrier.
"If [Spurrier] does [select me], that would be great," Brown said. "He can pay me now. You can't pay me in college."
Brown, however, doesn't stand to get paid in the manner many expected after setting the Gators' single-season sack record (13) as a sophomore. A first-team All-American that season, Brown failed to meet expectations the following year and cemented a reputation for taking plays off. The subpar performance ended his dreams of turning pro as a junior.
"I wanted to leave," Brown said. "I wanted to go to the NFL. But I came to the reality that I just wasn't ready for that yet. I thought I was, but I wasn't ready. That next year really helped me."
Accepting the criticism, Brown dedicated himself to becoming a more complete player. He vowed not only to play with more consistency but to toughen up against the run. Questions persist as the draft draws near, but this season's 10 sacks, return to first-team All-American status and SEC player of the year award show that the work paid off.
"After watching film of myself, [the criticism was] definitely fair," Brown said. "I saw it. I saw where I could have hustled a little more. Not to say that I was taking that play off, but I could have done more."
The comparison to Kearse is natural: Brown possesses a similarly lanky frame and the belief of many observers that he is the draft's top speed rusher. Kearse went No. 16 in the 1999 draft and set an NFL rookie record with 14 sacks, convincing the skeptics who thought he was too light to play end in the NFL.
Now it's Brown's turn. But while he understands why he is likened to Kearse, he reacts to the sentiment much as he does the mention of Smith.
"I enjoy it when I hear it, but I don't know whether it's fair to him," Brown said. "He's accomplished so much and worked so hard. I haven't done anything yet, as far as the NFL."
If the Redskins don't select Brown on April 20, they still could opt for a starting-quality defensive lineman. Left end Marco Coleman might be a salary cap cut after June 1, while tackle Kenard Lang, a natural end, is drawing plenty of interest as an unrestricted free agent.
Washington won't be able to draft a first-tier defensive lineman because those prospects will go in the top 10 picks. But the Redskins' options could include ends Dennis Johnson (Kentucky), Anthony Weaver (Notre Dame) and Dwight Freeney (Syracuse) or tackles Ryan Sims (North Carolina) and Larry Tripplett (Washington).

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