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tiggerpolice 08-17-2005 07:18 AM

Saints' Brown back atop depth chart
Saints' Brown back atop depth chart

Advocate sportswriter

METAIRIE -- Like many other players who have made it in the NFL as a free agent, Fakhir Brown's six-year career has been anything but a smooth journey.
Brown, a former Grambling State standout, went from being a starter with the San Diego Chargers to being a castoff in two short years. Then, in three years he climbed from the bottom of the New Orleans Saints depth chart to the top of it last season -- only to tumble again in May by his own doing.

An ill-advised attempt to renegotiate the two-year contract he signed in March 2004, which will pay him $540,000 this season, only landed him in coach Jim Haslett's doghouse and put him behind veterans Jason Craft and Fred Thomas on the depth chart.

In boycotting the team's "voluntary" coaching sessions, a series of 14 practices in May and June, Brown handed valuable repetitions to Craft and Thomas. That put Brown behind in the race for the starting right cornerback spot even though he returned for a June minicamp -- without a new contract.

"Things aren't always going to go the way you want them to," Brown said when asked if he regretted missing the coaching sessions. "It was just how I felt at the time. It could have been good or bad, but right now, things are good. You have to keep working for it, and eventually it will come."

Luckily for Brown, Haslett didn't hold a grudge. When the Saints reported to training camp on July 28, Brown learned in team meetings that night that he would be working with the first-team defense the next day.

So while he didn't gain anything monetarily, at least not until he becomes an unrestricted free agent in March, his boycott didn't cost him his starting job opposite left cornerback Mike McKenzie.

It turned out to be a good move for the Saints. According to Saints coaches, Brown has had an excellent training camp so far and has seemingly cemented his place with the defense.

"(Brown) has had a great camp. He and Mike (McKenzie) played extremely well the other day," Haslett said after evaluating tapes of the Saints' 34-15 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the exhibition opener.

But Haslett isn't the only one praising Brown's play. Greg Brown, who coaches the Saints cornerbacks, is among those who've been impressed with Fakhir Brown's play so far.

"Fakhir has picked up right where he left off last year," said Greg Brown. "He's been consistent, he's executing his plays and assignments, and he's playing with good technique. It was a real positive to get him back here in camp on time."

Haslett and Greg Brown said they weren't at all surprised to see Fakhir Brown return to the form that helped him earn a starting job for the final 10 games of last season.

Haslett said he figured Fakhir Brown would be ready to go when camp started, which is one of the reasons Brown didn't miss a beat when he returned.

"I know he's always in good shape and he takes care of himself," Haslett said. "He's a pro. He knows how to turn it up when he has to."

There were some rough times, however, Brown admitted.

In addition to not knowing exactly where he stood when he checked into training camp, Brown said he was a little rusty because he hadn't been in cleats in several months.

"My feet were hurting at first because I hadn't had the cleats in a while, so I felt a little rusty there," Brown said. "I also got winded a little in that first practice, so I had to get used to being out in the heat and the sun again.

"Other than that, as time went on, I got to feeling a lot more comfortable with the defense again," he said. "This is my fourth year with this defense, so I'm used to playing with these guys. Not only that, but the safeties are smart and they make the cornerbacks feel a lot more comfortable."

Brown certainly looked comfortable when he became a full-time starter last season. He had a career-high 57 tackles, two interceptions and a team-high 15 pass breakups. He also forced two fumbles and recovered three.

But as every NFL player knows, it's not about what you did last season. Which is why Brown just keeps listening to the coaches when they try to encourage him.

"The coaches just tell me to keep working hard," he said. "They want me to keep pressing to get better. The focus is on making sure everything is right and to make sure of my responsibilities."

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