Orlando Brown Jr. has played left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens for years – at least in his mind.
Brown will be stepping into Ronnie Stanley's gigantic shoes after the All-Pro suffered a season-ending ankle injury last week. While it will be Brown's first time playing left tackle in the NFL on a full-time basis, it's certainly not "new" to him.
Brown's late father, Orlando "Zeus" Brown, played right tackle for the Ravens for six seasons (1996-1998 and 2003-2005). While "Baby Zeus" was, of course, a big fan of his father, his dad always kept his eyes on the other side of the offensive line – at Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden.
"I've always wanted to play left tackle for this organization. That was something that me and my dad and my mom talked about growing up," Brown said on "Ravens Report" after starting his first NFL game at left tackle versus Washington in Week 4.
"It kind of sparked my love for football seeing Jonathan Ogden play the position and everything he did here, and what he meant to the organization. My dad playing right tackle, he always understood the importance of a left tackle. From an early age, he groomed me to play that position."
Brown only had to fill in for Stanley, who was dealing with shoulder and hip injuries, that one game versus Washington. Then it was back to the right side, where Brown was immediately plugged into when he arrived in the NFL in 2018.
Right tackle is an extremely challenging position. In late September, during a video call with reporters, Brown argued that in today's NFL, usually the defense's best pass rusher lines up over the right tackle.
But there's a reason why Brown felt compelled to point that out. It's because left tackles get the glory, the mega contracts, etc. The "blindside" protector is considered the more important of the two tackles. Brown knows this, and so did his father. That's why he wanted him to play left tackle.
That's exactly what Brown did throughout his childhood and into college at Oklahoma. After redshirting his freshman year, he was named the team's starting left tackle in 2015 and started every game (40) there the next three seasons.
Brown allowed just one sack in 659 snaps as a junior. As a senior, he was a unanimous first-team All-American and became one of just three players to be named the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year multiple times.
But when Brown came to Baltimore, Stanley was already an entrenched Pro Bowl-caliber player entering his third season. There was no way he was playing left tackle for his hometown Ravens – at least not anytime soon. And when Stanley inked a five-year contract extension last week, it appeared Brown might never do it on a full-time basis.
Brown has stepped in for Stanley twice now this season. He played the entire game against Washington at left tackle and then 61 snaps (an average game's worth) versus the Steelers. Both times, he drew positive reviews.
"I think he's done really well. He's done a good job," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
Just as important, Brown has earned the trust of MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. The two sit next to each other in the Ravens locker room, and that bond carries over to the field.
"He's just like a brother to me. We see each other every day. We're working with each other – blood, sweat and tears – each and every day," Jackson said. "We'd like to have Ronnie and have [Brown] at his original spot, but it's all good. It's part of the game – things happen. I feel he'll fit in perfect. He did it all his life."
Brown said shifting from right tackle to left tackle for the one game against Washington was "not easy at all." The muscle memory and technique required to play offensive lineman at a consistently high level in the NFL is off the charts.
"I would definitely say it compares to being a left-handed pitcher and having to throw with your right hand on the mound," Brown said. "It's very different – the mechanics, your thought process, the way things have to process from your hands to your feet, the way you've got to activate your core, which hip you're using to push off of and all those different things."
But at the end of the day, there's a certain degree of "riding a bike" for Brown. The more reps he gets back at left tackle, both in practice and games, the more natural it will feel again.
After originally being voted as a first alternate, Brown went to the Pro Bowl last year. He wants to take it a step further and become an All-Pro – just like Stanley. Now there will be more eyes on him with many people looking to see how well he can fill in.
Brown said it was "hard to put into words" the affect that seeing Stanley carted off the field with his leg in an air cast had on him and the team's morale. But the Ravens still ran for 265 yards against a stingy Steelers defensive front, and Brown's road-grading style was a big reason why.
"It's the NFL, and unfortunately, the mentality is next man up. So, however things unfold, we have to go out there and do our best week in and week out," Brown said Sunday. "[I have] a lot of optimism, man. We have some guys that really want it and really want to win, and they're hard fighters."