The quarterback position was arguably the most talked about the entire offseason for the Buffalo Bills prior to the team opening training camp at St. John Fisher. Veteran Trent Edwards was the man chosen to begin practice atop the depth chart, with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm sharing reps with the second team. A player who has flown virtually under the radar during the few first days of practice is rookie Levi Brown, a seventh-round selection out of Troy University in the 2010 NFL Draft.
While the spotlight has been on the three experienced players jockeying for playing time with the top units, Brown, a native of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, has been taking it all in during his first full practices as a professional.
"It's exciting. It's a lot of work, you're always doing something, whether it is practice or meetings, but it's fun," he said. "It's the position I want to be in. Everyone wants to be here, so I'm grateful for the chance and just trying to do as well as I can."
The anticipation of who would open head coach Chan Gailey's first camp as the starter reached a fevered pitch at the start of last week, with Edwards, Fitzpatrick and Brohm considered the prime candidates all along. Brown on the other hand, being the youngest of the group, was not sure what to expect when the team reported to Pittsford on July 28.
"I didn't really have a plan or any expectations, I had no idea what was going to happen really," he said. "But it's cool, I'm just going with the flow, and whatever the coach decides, that's what I'll do, so I'm just doing the best I can."
The 6'4", 225-pounder became the second player the Bills have selected from Troy since 2008, when cornerback Leodis McKelvin was the 11th overall selection in that year's draft. Brown began his career at Richmond University, where he was a part of the 2005 Atlantic 10 Championship team as a freshman. He then transferred up to Div. 1-A Troy after his sophomore season, and was required to sit out one year to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.
Brown flourished in his new league, earning Sun Belt Conference Newcomer of the Year as a junior after throwing for 2,031 yards and 15 touchdowns. He made his mark during his senior season, amassing 4,254 yards through the air and 23 touchdowns, and was named the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
One noticeable adjustment that Brown will have to make to the NFL is playing under center. He is in the process of making the switch from a spread attack he ran with the Trojans, where most snaps are taken in the shotgun set a few yards from the center, to a pro-style setup that forces a quarterback to focus on his footwork, receive the exchange from the center, and become comfortable with traditional drop backs on pass plays. Brown was pleased with the progress he has made refining his mechanics, although he admitted he was surprised at how well the process has moved along.
"It's actually gone smoother than I thought it would, to be honest," Brown said. "I've done it before at Richmond, my first two years of college where I was under center quite a bit, but I didn't do it very much in three years at Troy. I expected there to be a big learning curve for me, and obviously there is a little bit, I had to get back into the groove of being under center, but it actually has gone pretty smoothly."
Along with learning the basics of technique in an NFL offense is learning the playbook, which often contains far more wrinkles and terms than quarterbacks worked with during their collegiate careers. Brown has been very receptive to the system that Gailey and offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins have installed in Buffalo.
"I love the offense, I really do like it. But, you have to get a lot of reps to be comfortable in any offense, which, right now we got four quarterbacks taking reps, so it's hard to get enough to where you really feel comfortable," he said. "It takes a lot of time to really feel comfortable in an NFL offense because they are so complex. But, I'm pleased with my progress, I'm coming along nicely, andconsidering the reps I've gotten, I feel pretty comfortable."
In his limited duty thus far in camp, Brown has been a steady contributor to the offense, not showing the typical inexperience of a rookie. He has excelled in completing the short pass, and has also hit on a number of throws up the field against an assortment of Bills defensive lineups. Gailey stated that Brown would get as many reps as possible while the other three quarterbacks battle for the top two spots, and Brown downplayed any negatives that may be associated with his current role.
"Every quarterback in the NFL wants to be the starter for their team, so yes, there is motivation, but as far as the number of reps every person is getting, I don't necessarily focus on that," he said. "I look at it as every time I get a rep, I have to do as well as I possibly can, and that is the only way you can look at it I think."
Edwards, Fitzpatrick and Brohm all have starting experience in the NFL, but, like Brown, are all part of a younger generation playing the position. In getting himself up to speed with the pro game, Brown said that he relies on his veteran counterparts for advice on how to get the most of his opportunities.
"I ask a lot of questions. Fitz probably gets mad because I ask so many, but he has been great helping me out," Brown said. "Obviously he is a smart guy, came from Harvard, so he helps me out quite a bit. I'm glad he is here helping me."
As the quarterback battle rages on throughout the rest of the month, with each of the four players looking to leave his mark on the coaching staff, practice and preseason game performance will go a long way to determine the final depth chart. As a rookie, Brown is facing an uphill climb, but given his work over the first week of training camp, he has shown the ability to be a quick study.
He said that his accuracy throwing the football is one of the most important traits of his game, and he will try to stay sharp in that area throughout the rest of the team practices at St. John Fisher.