It’s been a bad 2 weeks for Panthers rookie Derrick Brown. He knows he has to be better.

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The Panthers drafted Derrick Brown to be an immediate starter on the defensive line.

The seventh overall pick is the start of a defensive rebuild, a step toward replacing the linemen who left in free agency — Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Bruce Irvin, Mario Addison.

General manager Marty Hurney said during the draft that he believes a team starts building a defense from up front. That’s the goal with Brown.

But in his first two games as an NFL player, Brown’s mistakes have received more attention than his positive play. In his first two starts, he has totaled three tackles, two passes defensed and one tackle for loss.

And his play was highlighted in the Panthers’ loss to the Buccaneers because of two costly third-down penalties that created first downs for Tampa Bay.

The first was an unnecessary roughness penalty in the first quarter after a late hit on running back LeSean McCoy on a third-and-9 that gave the Buccaneers the ball at Carolina’s 7-yard line and immediately led to a Ronald Jones rushing touchdown. The second was a hands-to-the face penalty in the third quarter on third-and-11 that resulted in a first down at the Carolina 41.

“I had a hands-to-the-face call, trying to push the pocket and get pressure on Tom (Brady). (My) hands got kind of high, I mean it happens,” Brown said Wednesday. “I had another play call, late hit, already in the air when when the guy hit the ground. It’s one of those plays you got to try to avoid. I’m always going to sell out for my team and always try to do everything full speed. I’ll take two bad calls giving it him my best effort. I’ll take that at the end of the day and I’m just got to work on my technique and getting my hands down.”

Those types of mistakes aren’t atypical for rookies, but it’s still not something the Panthers want to see from their first round-pick. Carolina coach Matt Rhule, however, said that if the penalties are coming from Brown doing everything he can, it’s not the worst thing.

“Derrick cares greatly. I had him come meet with me (Monday) morning,” Rhule said. “I said, ‘forget the penalties.’ I mean, he’s (320) pounds, he’s running 20 yards down the field, he can’t stop. He lands on the guy. I said, ‘try to get rid of it.’ But he’s playing the way we want to play. I mean, he’s making plays 15 yards down the field. He’s going to get doubled a lot in pass protection, his name won’t always maybe get called, but he’s making plays down the field.

“I think when penalties are made out of elite effort, we have to just kind of deal with it. I don’t think it’s anything about young or old. I mean, maybe to an extent, but we’re just a little bit grabby and pass interference. We have a tendency to grab and we just have to put it a little bit more confidence to go attack the ball. But the aggressive penalties I can live with.”

Brown has played 70% of the defensive snaps, most among Panthers defensive tackles, largely due to the fact veteran tackle Kawann Short missed last Sunday’s game with a foot injury. But being out there without Short is a challenge, and the former Pro Bowler’s status for Sunday’s game against the Chargers in Los Angeles is up in the air after he did not practice Wednesday with a foot injury.

Brown, the former Auburn player, is also dealing with NFL-caliber offensive linemen for the first time consistently.

“Experience and technique,” Brown said when asked about the difference between college and NFL offensive linemen. “A lot of things in college, it’s about brute strength and who can get there first. But as I’m finding out week by week, it’s about technique and being able to slow the game down and speed your pace up but slow the game down. I know it sounds crazy but that’s exactly how this game is.”

Pro Football Focus graded Brown 154th out of 155 defensive lineman this season (29.9 out of 100). He did not win a single one of his 27 pass rushes and was not much of a factor in the run defense. The only first-round pick to have a worse grade for the 2020 season after two weeks is Cardinals linebacker, and Clemson product, Isaiah Simmons, (28.4) who was selected just after Brown.

Brown also has the second-worst overall defensive grade on the team, just ahead of linebacker Tahir Whitehead (27.1), per PFF.

There’s still plenty of time for Brown to get comfortable as the entire defense learns. Expectations for him to not deal with growing pains are unrealistic. He’s still getting comfortable with this defensive scheme, Rhule has said many times the team is still growing, but the Panthers need him to get better.

“Honestly, my play hasn’t been up to what I I expect of myself,” Brown said. “Going forward, I plan on playing a different game. Just kind of trying to find my way, but I’m confident my play calls and I’m confident in knowing my playbook now. It’s one of those things where going into a new system, you got to be able to figure it out, no matter what that is, no excuses are tolerated at this level. I got to be able to personally just learn the game a little more.”


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