FRISCO, Texas - Anthony Brown might never have seemed like a cornerstone piece of the Cowboys' organization since he was drafted in 2016, but the cornerback wouldn't still be on the team if he didn't offer significant value. The list of players on the Cowboy roster who were on the team back when the organization was still headquartered at Valley Ranch is small, and since that time Brown's value has come in the terms of reliability, depth, playmaking, and now leadership.
It's hard for Brown to wrap his head around the term "veteran" applying to him, but he's certainly embodying the role.
"It's crazy," Brown said. "It happened so fast. I still remember coming in as a rookie."
He had to learn quickly as a rookie when he was stepping for an injured secondary. Brown started nine games in his first year as a sixth-round pick. Back then he was being mentored by veterans of the Cowboys' past. Brandon Carr. Orlando Scandrick. Morris Claiborne. "I still talk to those guys to this day. They're still helping me."
Six years later, the roles have reversed. "I definitely want to be a big brother to all the guys," Brown said. "I want them to look to me if they have any questions, if they have any concerns they want to talk about."
Just last week during OTAs Trevon Diggs used those exact words when he said that Brown was like a "big brother" to him. "He's a really good influence on my career," Diggs said of Brown.
Brown's leadership isn't unearned. Nothing has been easy for him. As a late-round pick, he has entered just about every season of his career considered to provide depth, rarely talked about as a key piece to the defense. Last season was particularly hard for Brown, physically. He revealed on Tuesday that last season he suffered five fractured ribs at the end of a Week 2 practice in which a player's cleat went directly into his ribs. The incident actually resulted in a punctured lung that made breathing difficult for Brown. He fractured a few more ribs in a game a few weeks later when he thought the injury was fully healed.
Still, despite painful injuries, Brown did in 2020 what he's done his entire career: Step in when he's needed and make plays. He recorded two interceptions in 10 games played and eight starts. Now, Brown says he is fully recovered from his rib injury, and his mobility and understanding of the game are better than ever. He also stated that new defensive coordinator Dan Qunin's game plan has been "much clearer than last year."
Brown's mentee, Diggs, will be a presumed starter, but who starts opposite Diggs won't be determined until training camp. Perhaps it will be Brown or perhaps rookie second-round pick Kelvin Joseph will be ready to start. Either way, Brown will be ready. "My mindset is to make everybody better around me and do my job at the same time."
OTAs and mini-camp practices have been opportunities for Brown to provide his veteran dependability, but the cornerback found himself on the wrong end of the most memorable play of OTAs last week when CeeDee Lamb made an athletic sideline catch with Brown covering him.
The veteran was unwilling to concede the defeat to his younger teammate when asked about it on Tuesday, however. "That would have been an incomplete pass in a real game," Brown said only half-joking, before explaining that he had nudged Lamb out of bounds before he made the pass.
Everyone knows Lamb will make plenty more big plays as his career goes on, but history suggests that, one way or another, Brown will find himself on the field in big moments making plays on the defensive side.