Preston Brown enjoys having familiar faces in the crowd at training camp and looks forward to his family being able to watch games live now that he’s back home.
Ironically, that’s what the Cincinnati native and former Buffalo Bills linebacker considers the biggest adjustment since signing with the Bengals in March.
Familiarity doesn’t always make things easier.
“It’s just getting used to all your family being around, cousins and fake cousins and everybody so close to me,” said Brown, who expects to have a small cheering section at Thursday’s preseason opener against the Bears. “When you’re six hours away, you can be away and not text back right away and it’s not a big deal, but now everyone knows you’re right down the street and they can come find you – and they will if they want to. That’s what I’m trying to get used to is just being so close.”
Brown says that with a smile because at the same time it’s “fun having fans here,” and he actually thinks their support will help make it a good year in the end.
The Bengals are counting on that production.
The 6-foot-1, 251-pound middle linebacker finished the 2017 season with 144 tackles, tying Green Bay’s Blake Martinez and Cleveland’s Joe Schobert for the most in the NFL, and he’s proven reliable. Brown did not missed a game since he was selected by the Bills in the third round of the 2014 draft, starting 62 of the 64 games he played, and he was in for at least 98 percent of the defensive snaps each of the past three seasons (93 percent in 2014).
“Preston Brown has been a really big addition,” Bengals Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin said just prior to the start of training camp when asked about the strengths of the roster additions for this year. “We know exactly what he is. He’s played every snap when he lined up in Buffalo. We can feel very confident about what he’s going to be as an NFL player. He’s been great as a leader for us and fits right in.”
Brown said it’s been a smooth transition with his new team.
He came in with a little knowledge of some of the other players on defense, which helped. He had trained with Shawn Williams and Jordan Evans before, and he shares the same agent as Vinny Rey.
“It was nice knowing some people so I didn’t have to sit in the lunch room by myself the first day,” Brown joked.
The 25-year-old said he continues to work to learn the playbook, but he feels comfortable in Teryl Austin’s defense. Brown has learned to adjust to different coaches before, as he received play calls from three different defensive coordinators in four years with the Bills.
The one constant from then to now has been the aggressive mentality he learned in Buffalo, similar to how Austin wants the Bengals defense to play.
“It’s pretty similar to what we did in Buffalo, trying to get turnovers, running to the ball, punching the ball out, putting balls on the crowd and picking up and scooping,” Brown said. “It’s kind of the same mentality, so it’s kind of cool coming to a defense doing the same kind of things.”
Brown will be counted on to step in as a leader right away, especially with Vontaze Burfict suspended the first four games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Brown gave “Vontaze his space” in the spring and seemed to be easing in, but noted “now he’s going to have to go and take over.”
“That’s so important for Preston to go ahead and ascend and to continue to grow,” Lewis said.
That’s been a little easier to do since Burfict hasn’t yet been integrated into practices while opening training camp on the non-football related injury list.
Brown just wants to do his part to help the defense.
“We are losing an All-Pro linebacker four games so we’re all going to have to step up as linebackers to fill the spot,” Brown said. “It’s definitely going to be a lot on us those first four games and we’ve got to go out and play hard because Vinny Rey, Nick (Vigil), Hardy (Nickerson), all those guys have to step up and play well. I feel comfortable in my role. I’m just trying to learn more every day, learning the guys, learning the playbook, just trying to go out there and get better.”