ORLANDO, Fla. — Tristian Wirfs still remembers the first game he faced Derrick Brown. It was mid-September 2020, the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were facing off in an early season matchup, and the two first-rounders—Brown and Wirfs—were testing the mettle of what would become a twice-a-year fight between divisional rivals.
It took little time at all for Brown to make an impression.
“He’s a freak of nature,” Wirfs said simply.
Wirfs lets out a scoffing laugh as he delivers the description, knowing even after all this time, the label doesn’t even really encompass what can’t ever be fully described.
“I faced him, it was our rookie year, playing at home and I remember—he might remember, he got a penalty on it, he got a hands to the face call,” Wirfs made sure to add, “but he was just bull rushing me, he kind of looped out, just started bull rushing me. But he’s like pressing me back and I remember he ran me right back into (quarterback) Tom (Brady).
“I felt Tom hit the back of my helmet and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I hope I didn’t hurt Tom.’ He’s just a dog, … he’s so athletic, so explosive and at his size, that combination is just rare.”
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Brown made a few impressions that 2020 rookie year, that still make some of the league’s most tenured offensive lineman rock back on their heels and let out a whistling breath of begrudging admiration.
“I actually played him for the first time back in 2020. I think it was a Thursday night game,” Houston Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil recalls. “That’s when I realized he was strong as hell. I mean, that was his rookie year, and (he was) strong as hell, explosive, good instinct, great player.”
In the three years since, Brown has become only more explosive, instinctual, and strong. It’s a unique combination that sent him to Orlando this year for the 2024 Pro Bowl as one of the NFC defensive linemen. Originally a first alternate, Brown replaced Aaron Donald at the annual gathering of the league’s best players.
That means the top NFL’s top offensive linemen are there too. And those O-linemen can all agree on one thing; facing Derrick Brown is not for the faint of heart.
“He’s just like a big strong dude. And he’s got good quickness and then good moves,” Colts guard Quenton Nelson explained. “He’s got a lot of ways where he can win and the scary part is like, he’s still getting better. He’s still a young guy in the league.”
Nelson’s teammate, center Ryan Kelly added: “I think the combination of strength and quickness, I feel like definitely plays in to his attributes and he’s got a big motor too. So, any time you can combine those three things, it makes him pretty dangerous.”
When a game wrecker sets up shop in the trenches, the game plan—on paper—is “easy,” according to Tunsil.
“The center slides his way,” Tunsil said. “Can’t stop a player like that. Got to double-team him every chance you get.”
It’s the execution that becomes more difficult.
“Their defense they (the Panthers) play, obviously for being one of their best defensive players, (opponents are) going to double-team him a lot,” Kelly pointed out, “so for him to produce that much production is very impressive.”