CINCINNATI — When Orlando Brown Jr. saw the schedule taking him to Cleveland for his first game with the Cincinnati Bengals, his first thought was excitement for the challenge of facing one of the game’s best pass rushers.
Now as the season opener approaches Sunday, he’s filled with a wide range of emotions.
The Bengals’ new left tackle looks forward to his first game in Bengals stripes and a chance to prove himself against Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who is considered to be a top 2 or 3 edge rusher in the NFL. But any time Brown goes to Cleveland, the games always take on a bit more meaning beyond what happens on the gridiron.
“I try not to make too many games bigger than they are, but that was the franchise that obviously gave my dad an opportunity,” Brown Jr. said, referring to his late father, Orlando Brown Sr., who played the first three seasons of his NFL career with the Browns. “Obviously, all those people are in Baltimore after moving from Cleveland, but my mom’s from Cleveland, I’ve got a lot of family still up there, so I’m always a little motivated playing there.”
Orlando Brown Sr., who passed away in 2011, was with the Browns from 1993 through 1995 and was on the roster when Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore. He spent the next three seasons with the Ravens, but was signed by the “re-activated” Browns in 1999 as a free agent. A serious eye injury that season ended his time with the team and in football until 2003 when he returned to the Ravens to finish his career.
For Brown Jr., his father has always been a source of motivation to continue his legacy as a top tackle in the league. He’s done that so far, earning four Pro Bowl nods and helping Kansas City to a Super Bowl trophy last year.
The Bengals signed Brown as a free agent in March, pushing 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams over to right tackle and presumably completing the team’s two-year overhaul of an offensive line that contributed to allowing 71 total sacks through the 2021 season and Super Bowl run. Cincinnati had four new offensive linemen starting last season, and four of the five starters are back, albeit with Williams at a new position.
Brown, the Ravens’ third-round pick in 2018 who spent his first three seasons in Baltimore before signing with Kansas City in 2021, jumps right into the fire going up against Garrett on Sunday.
“On a Sunday you want to be yourself, but obviously certain guys call for certain things,” Brown said. “When you’re going against an alien like Myles Garrett, things will be a little different. I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing some of my best ball.”
The opportunity to go against one of the best is something Brown enjoys. He’s also familiar with the competition, having played Cleveland seven times in his career, including head-to-head matchups with Garrett four times, and all but one of those were during his time with the Ravens.
Garrett has 11 career sacks against the Bengals in nine games. Brown has allowed just one sack in his matchups with Garrett and the Browns.
“I was brought here to go against the best in the world,” Brown said. “That’s why I play football. That’s what I take pride in and that’s what I enjoy doing. I don’t prepare for the quote-unquote slouches or anything like that. I always want to play the best guys every single week. And I enjoy it.”
Brown’s first game with the Chiefs in 2021 also was against Cleveland. That was when Garrett finally got the best of him, finishing a sack on Patrick Mahomes in a four-minute situation on the last offensive play of the game in a win for Kansas City. Brown called it a “hard-fought battle” between them. He hasn’t faced Garrett since.
“He’s got a very unique set of fundamentals,” Brown added. “He’s got crazy athletic ability, alien like. And he’s got a very high motor, which is one of the reasons he’s one of the most double-teamed players in the NFL. And to still have 16 sacks speaks to all those things I mentioned. With his motor, his athleticism, his setup, he’s a Hall of Fame-level player.”
The Bengals are counting on Brown to protect their biggest asset in Joe Burrow, which ultimately was why they brought him in this season.
Brown hasn’t gotten much time getting a feel for how Burrow operates because of Burrow’s calf injury sidelining him for five weeks of practices at the start of training camp, but Brown isn’t worried about that impacting how well he can hold a pocket for his new quarterback.
“It’s all muscle memory,” Brown said. “That’s the majority of football. He’s a great quarterback that does a great job pre-snap, during the snap, getting the ball out, finding who he wants to get the ball to right away, so it’s not a concern for me.”
Brown said he looks forward to protecting another top quarterback in Burrow after serving as Mahomes’ left tackle the past two seasons. The two are different style players but Brown believes he can help Burrow be the best he can in 2023 and beyond.
The hope is that leads to another Super Bowl ring. Brown didn’t attend the Chiefs’ ring ceremony in June because he was too locked in on being a Bengal now and preparing to help Cincinnati get a trophy of its own.
“I’m focused on this year,” Brown said. “I’ll appreciate that. It’s hard for me to live in the moment with those things because I’m here now. Even if I was there, it would be hard to live in the moment for that just with it being a whole new year. We’ve got a whole other set of games, a whole other set of goals. That’s just my mindset, especially being here in Cincinnati now. I’m focused on bringing a Super Bowl to this city.”
Bengals at Browns, 1 p.m., CBS, 1290, 1530, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7