Derrick Brown: “I’m excited to just get back to work, to be honest”

CHARLOTTE — The first time the Panthers made a commitment to Derrick Brown, the night of the 2020 NFL Draft, he was sequestered with a few friends and family members at home after the league canceled the in-person festivities in Las Vegas because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This time, the family was with him again, but he found himself surrounded by teammates on the first day of the offseason program. And that fits, since the Panthers are now looking for Brown to lead a new chapter.

“Today, being able to have my family here and being able to just hang out, I’m excited, man,” Brown said Monday after finishing up the first day of workouts with teammates following last week’s contract extension. “I’m excited to just get back to work, to be honest.”

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Derrick BrownChanelle Smith-Walker/Carolina Panthers

There’s plenty of that to be done, but signing Brown was a significant part of the process.

Beyond securing one of their top players — he set a league record for tackles by a defensive lineman last year and made his first Pro Bowl — he also serves as an example for the front office.

Other high picks who came here before and after Brown are gone, but rewarding Brown with a four-year extension, which keeps him here until 2028, is also a signal to other players that this front office is serious about keeping their own.

As much as Brown anchors the run defense, he’s also hoping to become the guy who stops previous trends and leads the team forward. The way he works is as important as the work he does, and the way he leads is another big part of the equation.

“I’m going to try to be,” he said. “At least I’m going to try to just be where my feet are and get the job done. But it was important.”

And in his first conversations with general manager Dan Morgan and head coach Dave Canales, in the moments after finalizing the deal Friday, that message was clear.

“Great conversations; you know, everybody wants to change the culture,” Brown said. “We want to win, man. I want to get this place to be something special, and 2-15 ain’t going to cut it.

“So that’s the message.”

Brown is, by nature, not the most talkative player in the locker room. But when he speaks, there’s a certain gravity attached to it, and his play on the field adds to that.

But now, as one of the centerpiece additions of a busy offseason, there’s an added layer of leadership coming his way.

Brown said he’s glad to have a few elders, such as linebacker Shaq Thompson, around. But he also knows that this is a very different team than the one he joined in 2020, and it’s on him to help lead a turnaround.

“Let’s say it like this: I’m quiet most of the time, but when I need to be heard, I let it be heard,” Brown said. “I should be who I am. I mean, we still got guys that I respect and you have a lot of confidence in, like Shaq. He’s had that C on his chest for a long time. So he’s still got my respect and he’s coming back this year from that injury last year.

“So, you know, that’s still my vet from the day I walked in here. That’s the guy I look up to.”

Derrick BrownChanelle Smith-Walker/Carolina Panthers

Now, people will look up to Brown, and he’s aware of that. He’s got the benefit of knowing most of his meeting room and coaches (which is something he could never take for granted for his first four years when he had a different position coach every year), and they supplemented the line by bringing in veteran A’Shawn Robinson.

But the contract he just received also means the focus will be on him even more than in the past.

Brown said he never spent a lot of time worrying about the financial aspects and made it clear he wanted to stay here. He let his work do the talking for him, and he was rewarded.

“You know, it’s an awesome feeling, I feel like the organization put the belief in me, and allow me just to be able to do what I do,” he said. “Never put too much pressure on me, having high expectations for me always, but allowing me to just be who I am while doing what I do, right?

“I think it’s no pressure but high expectations. So it’s more what our coaches expect from us, and you have to use that voice to be the highest voice. And that allows me to be able to go out and not listen to too many people or let anybody else’s pain affect me and just be able to walk in a room and sit down and talk and then I know exactly what our game plan for the week is. Hearing you talk about it and being able to know just exactly what they expect for the week.”

Derrick Brown, Damien LewisChanelle Smith-Walker/Carolina Panthers

Again, having the same coaching staff should help, but with all the turnover on defense, there’s less of a clear anticipation of what this year’s defense will be capable of. They replaced a lot of players, but they made it a point to keep Brown here and to make him the kind of example they want other players to see.

Getting it done when they did, a year before he would have become a free agent and before the start of the offseason program, only underscores that message.

That’s why Brown was the center of attention when he came in, getting hugs and congratulations from coaches and teammates alike, as they began the work together on Monday.

“A lot of guys were excited for me,” Brown said. “That’s a special feeling, especially guys you go out and work with every single day. They see what you do, and you put it on the line with them.

“I mean, that’s a special feeling.”

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