BEREA — Cornerback Sheldon Brown hasn’t missed a game in his 10-year career. He’s started all but one in the last eight years, including all 30 with the Browns. He and his coaches say he’s having a good season and can point to the Browns’ third-ranked pass defense as proof.
He’s also 32 years old. While that’s not ancient for a cornerback, it’s certainly on the way to over-the-hill. And the whispers have grown to murmurs that he’s nearing the end of the line.
“Oh, I know I got one year on my contract and I intend on playing that year out,” said Brown, who is scheduled to make $3.7 million in 2012. “No doubt.
If I have to play some, let another guy come in, then eventually just move out, I can do that. If I have to play some there and then have to move to safety, yeah, I can do that. But I know I can be productive.
“I want to play here in Cleveland because I believe in where this organization is going, I believe in (general manager) Tom Heckert. I’m a big supporter of him. But you can’t tell me that other teams in this league don’t think that I can play. So I know I can still play.”
Brown is a proud man. You have to be to be a cornerback in this league.
Self-doubt doesn’t work when you’re on an island with the other team’s fastest athletes.
Brown is also a team player. He’s a member of the leadership council and mentors the young secondary. And he stepped aside for a couple of series Sunday against the Cardinals when the coaches wanted to see more of nickelback Dimitri Patterson and rookie fifth-round pick Buster Skrine at cornerback in game situations.
“I’ve got enough film everywhere around this league,” Brown said. “So I’m never going to be the type of guy to stop another guy from showing what he can do on the football field and from coaches being able to evaluate talent.
“And I specifically would think it would be unfair to be selfish in that way. As long as the guy’s out there playing and helping the team move in the right direction and win, I’m all for it.”
If Brown were 26, there wouldn’t be a need to see more of Patterson and Skrine. But he’s 32 and Heckert has to plan for next year and beyond. If Brown can’t get it done in training camp, can Patterson or Skrine take over?
Or does Heckert have to find a No. 2 corner in the offseason?
“The only reason corners can’t play corner anymore is because there comes a time in your life where when you flip your hips and you run and you’ve got to stop and go the other way, you just can’t do that no more,” Brown said.
“It’s joints. It’s just a time where that doesn’t happen, so you got to go find a young guy.
“Receivers can play a lot longer than DBs because they’re only running one way.”
Brown hasn’t reached that point, but he has noticed his body changing.
“No doubt. But not just this year,” he said. “But I’ve gotten a lot smarter. If I knew what I know now when I was playing (early in my career), I would’ve been so much better.”
He relies on the years of experience to put himself in the right spots, and it’s worked this year. He’s gotten plenty of action as teams have stayed away from cornerback Joe Haden on the other side and has largely held his own.
But he has given up a few big plays and looked vulnerable against the speedy receivers of the Steelers.
“I’d like to think he’s got a future in this league,” coach Pat Shurmur said of Brown. “He’s played extremely well for us and I’ve got a lot of respect for Sheldon, not only his play on the field, but his professionalism and what he is as a person.”
A move to safety was considered a possibility this season, but Heckert insisted Brown was fine at corner. Brown remains open to the idea and is certain he’s athletic enough to make the switch.
“There’s no safety in the league you’re going to find fast as a corner,” he said. “You’re not backing up, flipping your hips, stopping, turning.”
He said the move wouldn’t have been possible this year because the lockout robbed teams of minicamps.
“I don’t think it’s fair to ask anybody just switch and be good at it,” he said. “Yeah, I can go back there, stand around, miss a few tackles and not know what I’m doing.
“But if you got the minicamps and you’re out there and you’re just not getting it, you can now go be fair to the organization and the coach. But they have enough guys on here with this team that can do it. So I’m not saying I’ve got to be a starting safety, but can I be a reserve guy that can swing from safety to corner? Yeah. No doubt I can do that.”
Patterson and Skrine will again take some of Brown’s snaps Saturday in Baltimore, but coordinator Dick Jauron isn’t ready to close the book on Brown.
“I know he’s played well,” Jauron said. “He’s very smart obviously. He’s a savvy corner.
“He’s very skilled and doesn’t waste a lot of movement, tremendous ball skills, ability to get his hand on the ball. He avoids the contact with the receiver, gets through and gets his hand on the ball. He’s as good as I’ve seen in that area and a smart guy, proud player.”
A team player, too.