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August 18, 2023

'Heat-seeking missile' Sydney Brown continues push for Eagles starting safety job

The rookie safety made a standout play against Cleveland in Thursday night's preseason game, tracking down a running back from across the field and hitting him like a freight train.

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8.6.23_EaglesPractice_Sydney-Brown1288.jpg Colleen Claggett/For PhillyVoice

Eagles rookie safety Sydney Brown taking the field for the team's open practice at the Linc back on August 6, 2023.

Sydney Brown just locks on and goes.

Avonte Maddox said earlier in the week that it's like having a heat-seeking missile out there, and on Thursday night down at Lincoln Financial Field, Cleveland running back John Kelly saw what he meant – or rather, felt it.

Late in the first quarter of the 18-18 preseason tie between the Eagles and Browns, Cleveland ran a pitch right to Kelly on 2nd and 10 from deep within their own territory, and as he was turning the corner, Kelly saw a lane and broke for it.

But Brown saw the exact same thing playing back and began sprinting in from the opposite side of the field. After Kelly gained a few yards emerging from the initial wave of blockers at the line of scrimmage, Brown was right there to meet him at full speed around the 15-yard line.

He hit him like a freight train. Third down.

Lock on. Fire. Boom.

That play registered as Brown's lone tackle on the night, but it was an impactful one in what's so far been a notable camp for the Eagles rookie with one more starting safety job up for grabs.

His athleticism has been plain to see. Motor and effort, unquestionable. And instincts?

"It's just all feel," Brown said postgame. "You kind of see it, see the blocks developing, the lanes. The same holes the running back sees, you see. You just gotta trust that, and you gotta trust that the guys up front are gonna hold their gaps and do their job. That's what it comes down to. Just seeing that hole break open and everyone doing their job to make the ball come into my path. That's all it comes down to."

So lock on and go.

After getting drafted out of Illinois in the third round back in April – as what general manager Howie Roseman and the organization's scouts identified as a "red star player" – and with questions surrounding the Eagles' safety depth following C.J. Gardner-Johnson's departure in free agency, the possibility of Brown playing or even starting right away arose quickly.

With an impressive summer that built off of his debut last season, Reed Blankenship already has one of the two starting jobs nailed down, while the second is coming down to a race between Brown, Terrell Edmunds, K'Von Wallace, and Justin Evans – who all rotated in and out in different pairings with each defensive series Thursday night.

The latter three have more NFL experience, which the Eagles might lean toward if they choose to play it safe out of the gate. But after two preseason games and a couple of joint practices with Cleveland, Brown's skill, hustle, and aggression have made him the bigger standout – especially when it comes to tackling in the open field – and could stand to make the biggest difference in the defensive backfield, even if he still needs a lot of refinement.

"In terms of their aggressiveness, that's the art of a coach," defensive coordinator Sean Desai said of Brown, and his younger players in general, on Monday. "Sometimes their great traits can hurt us, but he hasn't done that. He's done a good job. We're just teaching the techniques that we want, and then you gotta let these guys play. That's part of what got them here, so we want their traits to show – the things that got them here."

So just lock on and go.

Midway through the third quarter, Brown read the play perfectly again and had his man lined up.

On a 3rd and 14 at the Cleveland 44, reserve quarterback Kellen Mond went to check down to his running back Hassan Hall on the flat, and before the ball even left his hand, Brown had already shifted downfield toward Hall, barreling at him at full speed with no one in front of him.

But it was a bad pass and Hall couldn't catch it, lamenting the drop as Brown pulled up on the sound of the whistle.

Kelly might have argued that it was for the best though. The heat-seeking missile had a target and was about to hit like a freight train.

"I got here for a reason, so just gotta trust what I see and if I feel something, it's just trust it and make [the play]," Brown said from the locker room afterward, snapping his fingers to convey urgency. "It's something that I work on, it's something that I really want to be good at, so when I'm watching tape, it's just how fast can I react to my key."

So when he's on the field, it's just lock on and go. 

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