SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Chris Brown caught 15 passes for Notre Dame in 2013, a third of which came in his final game. And the junior receiver appears to have built off that Pinstripe Bowl momentum heading into the coming season.
Coach Brian Kelly said last week that Brown was consistently Notre Dame's best receiver during the first week of practice, though it's worth noting DaVaris Daniels has been limited with a groin issue. But Daniels' absence, both in the spring and for portions of preseason camp, has actually been somewhat of a blessing for Brown.
With Daniels out of the picture, Brown has had to lead a group of inexperienced underclassmen. And doing so helped spur on a development with which Kelly sounded very pleased.
"(He) saw an opportunity there when DaVaris was not with us," Kelly said. "Chris really by de facto was the veteran of that group. And so he was put in a leadership position in the spring and really kind of took off. I think the circumstances led to him really emerging at that position."
Entering his third season in South Bend, Brown feels comfortable taking on a greater role. He knows the offense and route concepts well enough to where he doesn't have to think when running them, allowing him to react to what he sees from the defense.
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The example Brown used was noticing a Mike inside linebacker dropping down, leaving a window over the middle for him to run to and make a catch. Because he's not thinking about his route or release, he's able to do things like that.
"You feel more savvy, you feel more technical," Brown said. "You feel like it’s time and you don’t have to think about what you’re doing. You just do it."
Brown learned that savviness from one of the best in former Irish wide receiver T.J. Jones — "I tried to emulate everything he did," Brown said. Jones knew how to leverage himself against bigger defensive backs, how to not give away what route he was running and how to pick up on defensive tendencies to get himself open.
Jones made the leap to become that savvy player between his sophomore and junior year — the same position Brown is in right now. But Brown's been building to this point for a while, going back to his five-catch showing against Rutgers at Yankee Stadium.
"When you see it on the field, you say, ‘Why can’t I do that every time?’" Brown said. "That definitely gave me confidence and helped me carry it into the spring and now I’ll carry it into camp."