Tackle Levi Brown sets in pass protection during practice.
FLAGSTAFF – One of Levi Brown's two college degrees in is labor and industrial relations, and it fed into his role as one of the Cardinals' player representatives during this offseason's labor negotiations.
Brown found it fascinating to see such negotiations up close, although he found the drawn-out talks frustrating.
"I figured with how big the business of football is, you'd think a lot of people would try to keep emotions out of the situation, and try to make a decision based on the facts," Brown said. "In the beginning, from the opt-out, it seemed like emotions were steering this thing where it didn't need to go."
Taking emotion out of the equation also serves Brown when it comes to his situation. The fifth-year left tackle is a smart man – on top of his two degrees (the other is in psychology) he is working on a Masters in human resources – and not unaware of the criticisms his admittedly inconsistent play have generated.
He has interests outside the sport, like his dream to run a restaurant full-time, but he makes it very clear: "I love to play football."
"It's something I grew up wanting to do, wanting to be successful doing, and I wouldn't change anything," Brown said.
That's despite the massive pressure he's been under since the Cards took him fifth overall in the 2007, ahead of, among other players, running back Adrian Peterson.
"(Criticism) is what it is," Brown said. "It's the nature of the game. I was drafted high so people expect a lot out of me. As of now, I haven't been consistent enough for people to maybe consider me worthy of that pick. But I am going to go and do the best I can."
Brown, who played left tackle in college, spent his first three NFL seasons on the right side. He was switched back in 2010 after the Cards didn't re-sign Mike Gandy and while he had an uneven year, he has always been coach Ken Whisenhunt's choice to be there in 2011.
"I think it's hard to judge anybody based on how our season went last year," Whisenhunt said. "It was a transition where you had to move a player, and the left side is completely different than the right side. To Levi's credit, he did a good job handling that.
"Now, there's a lot of debate about if he did it well enough or not. But the thing I like about Levi is his focus. He is trying to make sure he is playing the left tackle position the way he should play it and the way he has the ability to play it. Hopefully that will show up."
With Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm "on me real tough" about parts of his technique – such as his hand placement and punching – Brown has been concentrating in that area. That flaw, he said, has hurt him, where he can dominate at times and "other games I won't stick with the technique and I get beat."
Center Lyle Sendlein called Brown "the most angry soft-spoken guy I know," ready to mix it up when necessary. Sendlein added the coaches and offensive linemen know what Brown gives the Cardinals, and with the criticism, "you can't buy into it and let it affect how you prepare or play."
Brown is one of the players always around the complex in the offseason, working with strength and conditioning coach John Lott when many are not. Whisenhunt even joked about how Brown kept showing up at the team facility at different points in the lockout hoping to be let in.
That's the work he sees necessary, for the same reason he continues to pile up college degrees despite millions in the bank.
"You want to better yourself," Brown said. "You do what you can on the football field and study your plays. That's how we better ourselves in the offseason, and in life you want to do the same thing. You never know what's in store out in the real world."
That's the rational way to look at it.