BEREA: Sheldon Brown’s pride hasn’t allowed him to miss a single game in nine NFL seasons.
Not even a shredded shoulder could kill the streak last year for the Browns’ modern-day version of Cal Ripken Jr. And like any genuine Iron Man, Brown is determined to keep his reputation for reliability in mint condition.
“It’s almost like a championship boxer,” Brown said Friday after practice. “It’s easy to quit and give up and not push yourself to the limit. I learned a long time ago that if you want to gain respect, you’ve got to earn it. I feel that you do your earning by the way you work and what you do, playing through injuries and playing through pain.”
Brown, 32, tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder when the Browns played the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 12. Despite the injury, he started the final three games of the season at cornerback.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Brown has played in all 157 games, including 13 in the postseason, since his professional career began in 2002. Only Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber has a longer active streak of consecutive games — 220, including playoffs — played among defensive backs.
But keeping the streak alive this season might be more challenging than usual for Brown. He had surgery to repair the rotator cuff a couple of weeks after last season ended. About seven years ago, he had an operation to fix a torn labrum in the same shoulder.
“You just basically follow the doctor’s protocol and the trainers,” Brown said. “Everybody’s body heals differently. For me, I just listen to what they tell me to do, and mentally I try to prepare myself to be back when I’m supposed to be back. If everything thing falls into place, it works.”
Brown recovered in time for training camp, and he hasn’t missed a practice since they started this past Saturday.
The team, meanwhile, has benefited from Brown’s influence. His experience is vital for a young secondary trying to adapt to defensive coordinator Dick Jauron’s 4-3 scheme.
“I think you have to have guys back there that can help communicate and if anything just settle guys down,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “I think Sheldon has played in lots of big games for lots of years, and I think aside from being a very fine player, he can help those guys.”
Brown, whom the Browns acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles on April 6, 2010, takes his role as a mentor seriously. Standout defensive backs Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent and Brian Dawkins helped Brown when he was a young player with the Eagles, so he feels obligated to provide similar guidance to others.
“Guys like that taught me the way, and my career would not be what it became if I didn’t have that,” Brown said. “So for me, it’s about leading by example. Even if there’s days that you feel like you don’t really want to go through the grind, you have to do it because I saw those guys do it. I’m all about giving back, paying it forward and I’m gonna do that until I’m done.”
Cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who recently signed with the Browns, got to know Brown in 2009, when they both played for the Eagles. He realizes the impact Brown can have on a franchise.
“I have a large amount of respect for Sheldon,” Patterson said. “Just watching him and seeing how he carries himself, he’s just a professional. [He’s] very positive-minded. He’s about winning, he’s about the game and not all that other stuff.
“Sheldon’s just a natural teacher. He’s a natural leader. That’s just who he is. That’s just in him. It’s been a good situation to be able to be around him.”
Brown’s ability to advise his teammates this year will be aided by the organization’s switch to a 4-3 defense. Brown said Jauron’s system is similar to the one in which he played when he was with the Eagles.
In other words, he’s in his comfort zone.
“It’s a system that I’m used to and accustomed to, and for me it’s just learning the verbiage and the terminology,” Brown said. “But I understand the concept of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The defense has greater chances of meeting its goals if Brown is in the mix. Of course, he’s determined to remain the epitome of dependability.
“I’ve been fortunate to not miss any games,” Brown said. “And I don’t plan on it now.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.