Corey “Pitt” Brown might as well have been “that other” Corey Brown his first several years at Ohio State, a defensive back not to be confused with his more well-known teammate, receiver Corey “Philly” Brown.
But the past few weeks, Corey “Pitt” Brown has been making a name for himself. When senior strong safety Christian Bryant was lost for the rest of the regular season after suffering a broken ankle on the next-to-last defensive play against Wisconsin on Sept. 28, Brown was thrust into the lineup.
It was a bittersweet moment for him.
“I don’t like seeing anyone go down, especially my brother, CB,” Brown said. “But I felt like it was a good opportunity for me to seize, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
A fifth-year senior from Pennsylvania, he gained the “Pitt” nickname because he came from Monroeville, just outside Pittsburgh. It differentiated him from Corey “Philly” Brown, the receiver the Buckeyes signed in 2010 from Upper Darby, a Philadelphia suburb.
But while “Philly” Brown rose to lead the team in catches both last year and this year, “Pitt” Brown was making do as a jack-of-all-trades backup defensive back. That was far from what had been expected when he signed in 2009 as a five-star cornerback recruit, but he hung in there and found his niche.
“He has been that utility guy who has played a lot of spots,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. “He has been in nickel, he has been at strong safety, he has been at free safety.
“He plugs in and fits in. I think he has done a very admirable job.”
Actually, Brown might be remembered as delivering the play that turned this season around defensively for the unbeaten Buckeyes. Maligned for being cut up by passing offenses, the Buckeyes were on the ropes again after taking an early lead over Penn State two games ago. The Nittany Lions had marched down the field, throwing a lot to the tight ends, as Iowa had done the week before, until Brown intercepted a pass in the end zone.
“It was definitely personal,” Brown said of the team’s desire to stem the criticism the pass defense had been taking. “Everybody on the DB unit wanted to get better and play better. I feel like we’ve been hitting that real hard the last couple weeks to get where we want to be.”
What they’ve also continued to do is heal from the loss of Bryant, considered by Meyer to be an elite team leader. As Coombs pointed out, that wasn’t a finger-snap task.
“You’re talking about a great player, a great leader and a great communicator on the field,” Coombs said. “He is somebody who has been playing that position for a long time and has complete understanding of it.
“When you take that piece out — we replaced him with a great player, C.J. (Barnett who had been the starting free safety) went in and played that spot. But now you’ve changed some of the dynamics of the communication and all of those kinds of things in the back end, and that stuff is really important.”
Brown rolled in at free safety, but he admitted to having to find his full-time player legs at first.
“I’m definitely more comfortable now since I’ve got a couple games under my belt,” he said.