EDITOR'S NOTE:This article appeared in the Houston Texans Gameday magazine on Nov. 18, 2012, for the Texans' game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Reliant Stadium. Last Sunday night, against one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL, Duane Brown held his own and helped quarterback Matt Schaub stay upright.
Brown kept defensive end Julius Peppers at bay and did not allow a sack, and the Texans ground out a 13-6 victory over the Chicago Bears. For Schaub, the stellar performance from his left tackle has become routine.
"I don't even think twice about it, no matter who's over there, whoever he has each week to block," Schaub said. "He just takes care of his business. I know he's going to bust his tail and he's going to get the job done. Really, I don't even think twice about it."
Playing at an All-Pro level, Brown has allowed just one sack in 2012, which is a remarkable feat in and of itself. What makes that statistic even more impressive is that he has been on the field longer than any of the game's other left tackles, as the Texans lead the NFL in time of possession at 34:46 per contest. The stability Brown provides on the left edge of the offensive line has helped propel the Texans to an 8-1 mark thus far.
"I think Duane's been playing at a big-time level," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "You talk about playing at a Pro Bowl level as a player and those types of things and how far Duane has come. I think he's done that for a couple years. I don't think this year is any different."
Brown was named second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press last season, when he allowed only 2.5 sacks as the Texans won the AFC South. He was not selected to the Pro Bowl, instead being named an alternate, but that is sure to change if he continues his current level of play.
Now in his fifth season, Brown stresses that confidence is a key part of his progression. He willingly admits that it wasn't there as a rookie in 2008. A first-round draft pick out of Virginia Tech, Brown was force-fed a steady diet of the game's best pass-rushers. Naturally, he dealt with the nerves that came along with the task of trying to prevent them from mauling Schaub.
"Yeah, I did," Brown said. "You come into this league and you're blocking guys that are Hall of Famers that you've watched all throughout high school and college, and it can get pretty intimidating early on in your career. The more confident I got that I could lock guys up, the more I started to do it consistently."
In his first NFL practice, Brown was tasked with blocking with former Texan Mario Williams. That preseason, he squared off against the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware. Once the regular season commenced, his first game was against Pittsburgh's James Harrison. Mix in Minnesota's Jared Allen and a double-dip against the likes of Dwight Freeney, and Brown's entrance into the NFL was a bona fide pressure-cooker.
"My first year in the league was crazy," Brown said. "I got a quick introduction of just how fast it was and how hard it was to play the left tackle position. After my first couple years, I polished myself a little bit."
'A little bit' is a modest way of putting it. Brown got to work physically and mentally to get better, and the Texans are now benefitting from his progress.
"Duane's a real pro," Kubiak said. "He's a guy who works extremely hard at what he does. He really studies his opponents. I think he's taken a step forward from that standpoint."
Offensive line coach John Benton, an assistant with Houston since 2006, has seen Brown's maturation first-hand. He explained how Brown has morphed into one of the NFL's best blindside protectors over the last few seasons.
"He's really become technical in his pass protection," Benton said. "He's had a chance to go through the league and knows what to study and how to study it, how to respond to different types of players he's going against."
In addition to the mental work Brown puts in, rigorous conditioning work has helped chisel his 6-4, 320-pound frame into one of the NFL's most dynamic.
"Even back into the preseason, there's been times where we're done for the day and everyone's out of here, and I'll go down (to the locker room) to get my things, and Duane's still the last person here," Benton said. "Whether it's from the standpoint of training in the weight room, taking care of his body in the training room or his mental preparation, I know he's become a big student of the game. His athleticism was always exceptional, and putting the whole package together for him has really paid off."
To keep defenders from getting to Schaub, Brown uses an array of techniques depending on the adversary and the situation.
"You have to be able to mirror them and their movements, as well as be able to sit down on guys that are stronger," Brown said. "Early on in my career, I wasn't able to do that. Just training hard and getting ready for them, this is the point I've gotten to now."
According to Kubiak, Brown has more than lived up to the challenge with which he's presented on a weekly basis.
"When you're a left tackle in the NFL, you're going to probably get the best pass rusher," Kubiak said. "It's just part of it. Duane, he's been a rock for us ever since he walked into this place."
Brown and the Texans are on a quest to win the Super Bowl. As for personal goals, he has set the bar extremely high: Wanting "to be the best to ever play the position."
A lofty goal, sure, but Brown has already become one of the best left tackles in the game today. And his future looks even brighter.