ATLANTA -- Intrasquad clashes don't provoke adrenalin rushes for Chris Brown the way line-of-scrimmage skirmishes on Saturdays can.
If the former Butler High Bulldog isn't cracking helmets with a bitter rival, he becomes lethargic. Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary berates his 6-foot-6, 315-pound starting left tackle for his lackadaisical approach to practice.
"Once you get to the game, it's like a whole new level," said Brown, a junior with 18 career starts. "I've got to apply that to practice. He's right. All of us need to practice the same way we play."
O'Leary's rantings are mixed with a barrage of compliments for the man responsible for protecting quarterback Joe Hamilton's back. The Yellow Jackets lost just one starter, All-American center Craig Page, off last year's 10-2 team. As one of the key components on a veteran line, O'Leary is counting on Brown to continue his development into an All-ACC performer.
The Yellow Jackets coach said Brown plays his position instinctively and possesses the quickness and mobility rarely found in players his size.
"He's probably the most natural offensive lineman we have," O'Leary said. "At times, we wish his work habits would be better. Chris Brown brings experience but I think he probably plays a lot better than he practices.
"I really think he can be a dominating player at that position."
Brown has regained his playing form after missing spring practices because of surgery on his shoulder and wrist. The former Butler basketball player attributes his quick feet to his days on the blacktop.
Georgia Tech's national championship aspirations rest mainly on the shoulders of Hamilton. It will be Brown's duty to prevent defensive ends from blind-siding the Heisman Trophy candidate. He said his mobility gives him an advantage against the relentless attacks on his quarterback.
"I like to move around a lot," Brown said. "It's a big part for us; we do a lot of pulling and trapping. The whole unit has a lot of pressure on it.
"There's going to be a lot of people coming after him so there'll be even more pressure this year."
In addition to the doldrums of practice, Brown had to exercise patience when he first arrived at Tech. A member of The Augusta Chronicle's 1995 all-area team, Brown was accustomed to being a major contributor.
O'Leary redshirted Brown his freshman season, relegating him to the scout squad.
"I had to get used to the role of being on the practice squad," Brown said. "I wasn't used to being a scrub. We all have a role and we have to do it to win."
Jimmy DeButts can be reached at 706-823-3221.