Duke linebacker Kelby Brown finished fourth in the ACC with 106 tackles and made the first team on the media’s All-ACC team. I had a chance to catch up with him this week about his successful season, and what he is looking forward to in the Chick-fil-A bowl against Texas A&M on Dec. 31.
You sat out last year rehabbing a knee injury. Did you feel you were ready for a breakout year this year because you were healthy?
KB: I thought I had a real offseason where I could get my body to where I needed it to be physically. Last season, I didn’t play but I was able to learn the scheme a lot better, so it all came together for me this year finally. I was able to just get over the injuries, to really gain weight for the first time and to feel good without having any knee pain the whole time. I had gained 20 pounds and a lot of strength so I felt like physically I expected to compete at a high level.
When did you get the sense this could be an All-ACC year for you?
KB: That’s a goal I’ve had for a while. I sat down with my LB coach, Coach [Jim] Collins, we sit down every spring and set some goals, and I said coach, ‘I want to be first-team all-ACC.’ I had it in my mind all season. I tried not to let it affect the way I played. I don’t want to be selfish out there but after Georgia Tech, I had made a lot of tackles out there, and the head coach came up to me after the game and said, ‘You’re a great football player, good luck all season.’ So then I realized I can compete at this level and make the plays I need to make.
Many have credited your return to the starting lineup as a big reason why the defense improved this year. Do you feel that way?
KB: It’s funny because a lot of people have told me that -- that our defense looks different when I’m out there. I think it is kind of true because I’ve always been a leader. I was in high school and I think I now have a real grasp for the whole defensive scheme so I can help the young secondary make calls, coverage checks, things like that. There’s a reason I’m here and there’s a reason that I’m a starter and I’ve just been groomed into being a leader, not to put that in a prideful way at all. But I do take pride in having that role on the team so I think I am able to make a difference out there.
You guys made the ACC championship game but lost to Florida State. Any lessons learned from that game that can help you against Texas A&M?
KB: We learned and we showed ourselves that we can compete with anyone even if we are somewhat outmatched physically, which we were. Florida State is one of the most talented teams in the country but we didn’t back down at all. We can look back, and I watched some of the game, my dad had it recorded, and the announcers were saying, ‘Duke is showing they’re not here for the T-shirts, they’re here and they’re hitting people hard.’ It’s a mentality of we don’t care who we’re playing, we’re going to go out there and play Duke football and we’re not going to back down. We showed that we can do that and now we just have to do it for four quarters.
How much have you already started watching of A&M and Johnny Manziel?
KB: As a team we haven’t watched much at all. Personally, we’re all watching film. I watched a couple games already. I’m excited to game plan for them because it’s going to be fun. Our defense is built for the spread offense so I think we’re going to match up really well.
Are there any similarities between Manziel and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston?
KB: They have a real different style. One thing is they can both move out of the pocket and still throw the ball downfield but Manziel does it to a much different degree and he’ll tuck it and run it really well. So they’re similar in that they both have great arms and great vision, different in the way that they move around the pocket and the way they hit receivers down the field.
Will you have additional responsibilities defending against Manziel, then?
KB: The zone read always adds a different aspect because now you have to play run, dive and quarterbacks so every run play is potentially two threats with the ball and then obviously every pass there’s potential guys to scramble. He’s just as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm. So obviously it brings a huge wrinkle in a game plan.
What are you looking forward to most about matchup?
KB: I’m just looking forward to playing an offense that’s really highly touted and highly respected and a guy who’s earned the Heisman Trophy for a reason. As a competitor it’s exciting to take on a great team like that, it’s a chance to prove to yourself and to other people what you can do. And also it’s fun to compete at that level. That’s why we play football. We don’t play just to get easy wins. Everyone will tell you their favorite games were against the hardest teams they played so that’s just another chance for us to do that this year.