Thursday, May 23, 2024

Ottawa Redblacks QB Dru Brown finally get an opportunity he’s earned

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In a football journey that has been full of waiting and patience and twists and turns, Dru Brown has never stopped believing in what he’s capable of.

A quarterback who had to stand in the shadow of others in high school, college and in the Canadian Football League, the 27-year-old Brown is now “the guy” — the No. 1 QB for the Ottawa Redblacks.

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While he’s enjoying his starting status a couple of days into training camp, it’s not like he’ll take his foot off the gas pedal. It’s not how he’s wired.

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Prepare. Work hard. Learn. Get better.

“I don’t want to say this is a lot more fun … but it’s a lot more fun,” said Brown, who played behind all-star Zach Collaros in Winnipeg the past three seasons. “I’m taking a lot of reps (here). That’s playing football … and I love playing football.”

As a high schooler, Brown didn’t start until his senior year. While he had success at the College of San Mateo, he again waited his turn when he moved on to the University of Hawaii, then Oklahoma State.

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“At every level I’ve been at, there’s been patience involved,” he said. “In high school, the guy in front of me was going to a Division 1 school. I got a chance to play at Hawaii, but I didn’t start until Week 4 or whatever it was.

“Same thing at Oklahoma State, I didn’t really get an opportunity to play. When I did, I played well. Same thing in Winnipeg. It kept happening. But that’s part of being a quarterback, you don’t really know when it’s going to happen for you.”

Decision makers always look at the measurables — size, strength of arm, decision-making ability and more. It’s hard to measure some of the intangibles in Brown’s tool kit.

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“People look at me and think what they think … I’m small, I’m not physically dominant,” Brown said. “But I would think there are very few people that prepare and know the game like I do. There’s always room for people like me. This game is the greatest equalizer. If you show up and you’re not prepared, you’re screwed. That’s not to say I suck. I have some skills.”

This year, he finds himself in the same quarterback room as Jeremiah Masoli, another player who also grew up in the San Francisco area.

“Jeremiah is a Bay-area dude; there aren’t a ton of guys making it so you’re always pulling for guys who are from your area,” Brown said. “Seeing his journey, watching him was pretty cool. I have a ton of respect for (Masoli). I used to try to make plays like him when I was in high school.

“I have a ton of respect for the knowledge he has and the type of dude he is. He’s great to work with. I’m really excited to get in a room with him and break things down.”

There are high expectations for Brown, who came over from the Blue Bombers in return for a fifth-round draft pick. He signed a two-year contract and will be paid $286,000 in salary this season with another $54,000 in playtime incentives for potential to earn $340,000 total.

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In 2025, it’ll rise to $355,000, with $45,000 in playtime ($400,000 potentially).

He wasn’t given that kind of money to be a backup.

“Anytime you get a shot to play, that’s what you do it for,” Brown said. “The past few years have definitely taught me there are other aspects of this game I do love — the preparation and the process that goes into it.

“I didn’t get to play, but I truly enjoyed showing up every day. That’s going to help me when I actually get to go out and compete. There were times last year where I got to play and you almost have forgotten how fun it is (to play) when you haven’t been out there. There’s work to be done. But I’m extremely excited to be here.”

“Anytime you’re opening training camp, guys are ready to roll. It’s always highly competitive, it’s always very urgent. I don’t come in and start, rah-rahing. I want to earn the respect to my teammates through my play, my actions and my preparation.”

The Redblacks have had bad luck with quarterbacks since Trevor Harris departed following the 2018 season. Matt Nichols was a bust. Then, it didn’t work out with either Nick Arbuckle or Masoli, whose season ended early because of injury each of the past two years.

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It’s no coincidence the Redblacks have won just 14 games the past four seasons.

Brown took a step ahead last season while suiting up as the Blue Bombers starter twice, completing 62-of-89 passes for 983 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

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“I wouldn’t say my mindset (as a starter) is different,” he said. “Maybe the responsibility is a bit different. But I’ve been approaching football the same since I was really young. When I say responsibility, as far as leadership, that will eventually turn into me being more vocal.

“In Winnipeg, that was Zach’s job and it was my job to have the conversations in private with with guys that maybe he missed and getting guys I worked with ready if someone went down.

“That was where my leadership role was. Here (that role) is expanding.”

THE END AROUND

Offensive lineman Dontae Bull had to be helped off the field near the end of practice. He was using a crutch as he left the sideline … Punter Richie Leone was removed from the suspended list and was back on the field at Monday’s practice … American defensive back Skyler Thomas was released … The Redblacks are on the field Tuesday from 8:30 a.m.-12 p.m. … There will be an open practice June 8, 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., at Gatineau’s Mont Bleu Stadium. 

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