“I’m going to Ohio State,” it said.
Green replied with resolute disappointment, and that was just the reaction Brown had hoped for.
A few minutes later, Brown let his new teammate in on the joke, giving Green the real scoop that he was coming to Athens. Green was the first to get the news, even before Georgia head coach Mark Richt.
After all, it was Green’s breakout freshman season that helped lead Brown to Georgia. A year after Green took the SEC by storm, leading the conference in receiving yards, Brown saw a similar opportunity for himself at Georgia.
That’s where Brown hoped the comparisons would end, but that hasn’t been the case so far. Since announcing his decision to join the Bulldogs in February, Brown and Green have been inexorably connected in the minds of fans and experts who envision the same results for Brown this fall that Green enjoyed a year ago.
“I don’t think it’s fair for people to compare me to A.J. or compare our similarities,” Brown said. “He’s an amazing athlete and does some things in practice that I’ve never seen done before. Personally, I think he’s A.J. and I’m Marlon. We’re different.”
Brown may want his independence, but fans have trouble ignoring the immense similarities and expecting the same success Green enjoyed in his first season in Athens.
Sure, Brown is just a freshman, still learning the intricacies of the game, but it’s not as if Green was an offensive savant last year. The truth is, Green never truly grasped the playbook, but his natural ability allowed him to make plays even when he wasn’t in perfect position.
The same could be true of Brown, whose size creates matchup problems for any defender. Watching Brown run routes during practice, quarterback Joe Cox said Brown’s potential impact is obvious even if he’s still learning how to perfect his craft.
“He’s a freak athlete,” Cox said. “He knows how to attack the ball. He has really good ball skills when it’s in the air as far as going up and making a play. You can tell he’s still getting to the point where he can just run routes full speed without having to think about what to do, but he definitely has flashes of being a great receiver.”
As easy as Green made things look last season, however, even he admits he’s the exception to the rule. Finding success as a freshman in the SEC is tough at any position, and expecting lightning to strike twice in two seasons at Georgia is a tall order.
More importantly, Green said, it’s probably far too much to ask of Brown, who is still trying to get comfortable with his surroundings and find his place in Georgia’s offense.
“I told him to just go out there and do what you do,” Green said. “Don’t try to live up to the hype they put me up to. Just play your game, and it will come to you.”
Watching the two Bulldogs practice alongside each other, however, it’s hard not to see why the comparisons exist. Both are big, giving them a distinct advantage over even the most physically imposing of cornerbacks. Both can jump. Brown was a three-time All-State basketball player in high school, but Green insists he’s the better player on the hardwood. And both have exceptional ball skills, employing a natural gift for swiping a pass that appeared off target and turning it into a long gain.
For all their similarities, however, Brown insists he and Green actually play a far different style of football.
“He’s more downfield, fluid runner, quick,” Brown said. “I’m pretty quick for my size, but I’m mainly a bigger receiver, a physical guy who will mix it up a little bit.”
It’s that physical presence that makes Brown such an intriguing weapon this season, even if he doesn’t have a complete grasp of the finer points of playing receiver just yet.
“Marlon is a matchup right off the bat, right when he lines up,” Moore said. “He’s 6-5, about 215, so when it comes to jump balls, one-on-one, I like his chances over any type of DB because no one is going to be able to compare with his size.”
As Green’s legend grew last season, so too did that of Alabama’s Julio Jones, another freshman phenom who racked up big numbers.
The two receivers garnered a lot of comparisons, but Green always saw a difference. He compared himself to Randy Moss, the speedy receiver for the New England Patriots. Jones was more like Terrell Owens, strong and physically imposing.
The analogies made for a simple enough distinction between the two, but it’s not so easy to label Brown.
“He’s both,” Green said. “He’s got the speed and size. He just got here and he’s 215, so imagine what a year under his belt will do for him.”
It’s those immense strengths, however, that could be Brown’s biggest weakness this season, but the comparisons and the expectations haven’t seeped too far into Brown’s consciousness yet.
He definitely expects to make an impact this season, and he hopes he can produce numbers that rival what Green accomplished a year ago, but that’s not what drives him.
And if he does reach those lofty heights, it won’t make him the next A.J. Green, he said. It will simply make him a better version of the player he has always been, and that’s the only standard he’s holding himself to this season.
“He has his head on straight,” Moore said. “He wants to be Marlon Brown. He wants to make a name for himself. With this season, he definitely has the opportunity, and I think he’s really going to come in and make a big impact.”