They'll be lining up alongside one another today at Soldier Field. A veteran middle linebacker will have a rookie on his flank in Buffalo's front seven on defense as the Bills prepare to face a formidable Bears attack. It might be normal for a vet like Brandon Spikes to wonder how much hand holding he'd have to do with a rookie making his first NFL start, but with Preston Brown such a concern doesn't exist. That's because Brown learned how to play linebacker from the same man who coached up Spikes during his college days.
Charlie Strong, now the head coach at the University of Texas, was Brown's head coach at Louisville after an eight-year tenure at the University of Florida. During his time with the Gators, Strong was Florida's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach where he tutored Spikes.
Strong's methods in coaching up linebackers hasn't changed much in his last three coaching stops, and Spikes noticed it right away when he watched his new Bills teammate on tape.
"I was watching our practice tape and I see the same technique stuff and steps with Preston," Spikes told Buffalobills.com. "I noticed him doing that early in camp and I know I was taught the same thing. Coach Strong taught us the same way. In the NFL things are a little different, but with him being a rookie I noticed it right away that his technique from college was still fresh."
Knowing the changes from college to the NFL can be fairly significant, Strong reached out to Spikes not long after the Bills drafted Brown in the third round this past spring.
"I told Spikes to take Preston in and show him the ropes," said Strong. "He's been in the league a long time and I told him he needs to be his big brother."
"He told me to take him under my wing and make sure he doesn't do anything wrong," said Spikes of his phone conversation with his former coach. "He's a man, but he's still a rookie. So I just stay on top of Preston and show him how to be a professional. I got that from coach Strong. He took me in and he showed me the right way to do things in football and life."
Strong also made sure to put Brown's mind at ease telling him he was going to an environment where he could lean on a veteran at his position.
"He was one of the first guys to call me after I got drafted," said Brown. "He just told me that Brandon was already up here so I had a guy that I could ask questions of and learn from. That was big, somebody that he had coached that knew a lot about the game that I could get information from."
Brown proved to be a quick study in his own right, but lining up at the same position behind Spikes on the depth chart only made their bond tighter.
"I was kind of excited to get another linebacker here that he produced in his time at Louisville," said Spikes. "Preston's just so fresh with the technique he just reminds me of when I was coached by coach Strong. It's been a while, but just to see him come out of college I was doing the same stuff that he was doing."
"You can see it just in how we practice, the same steps we take, and the way we read things," said Brown. "We've learned from the same guy so we get the same kind of feel for the game. So we see it in the practices with how we both do it."
The fact that the two linebackers were both competing in training camp for the starting middle linebacker role never got acrimonious because they charted a course as to how the competition would operate from the beginning.
"We had a great conversation when I first got here so we kind of set the rules from the get go," said Brown, who will be starting this week at weak side linebacker this week for the suspended Nigel Bradham. "I was going to try and go out and play as hard as possible and make him better. If he's playing better then he's making me play better and then we're all better as a defense."
Strong developed a special relationship with Spikes while the two were together at Florida. The two still maintain weekly contact by phone now five years removed from their time together in college.
"In college he was just like a father and I played for him," said Spikes. "That whole time down in Gainesville we had all that success. It was us feeding off of him and his energy and his mentality and the way we approached the game. He never let me get complacent."
"I have a great relationship with Preston and Spikes," said Strong. "I try to keep up with all of our former guys as much as possible and those are two guys I talk to quite a bit. The thing that makes them both great players is they have a real passion for the game, have a great attitude and just work so hard."
Spikes, who often gets a phone call from his former college coach a day or two after his games now, knows Strong will be watching today with two of his former players lined up alongside one another in Buffalo's defense.
"He'll call and say, 'Hey you missed this tackle. You had your head down,'" said Spikes. "I'm like, 'Man you're still critiquing me?' He'll say, 'I made you. I groomed you to be a pro.' Which he did, I can't argue with that."
"I'm sure he'll be ecstatic seeing us both out there," said Brown. "Every time we would see Brandon on TV watching it back at school at Louisville, coach would be ranting and raving about how he coached him. Every time he sees a Florida guy out there he'll be running around telling people how they were in college, so I think he'll be telling those Texas guys about us."
"I'll be so happy seeing those guys playing together in the NFL," said Strong. "Watching two guys I recruited and coached at two different universities playing for the same team will be really special."