Minnesota's Brown adjusts on the fly

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- Minnesota defensive tackle Garrett Brown isn't the type to back away from change.

He grew up playing hockey and lacrosse, spending 10 years on the ice and eight on the lax field. When Brown started high school in Fairfield, Conn., he seemed intent on pursuing one of those sports in college.

"That definitely changed quickly once I found out what a cheeseburger and weights were," Brown said.

Brown went through a major growth spurt between his freshman and sophomore years, sprouting four inches and adding 50 pounds. He entered high school as a 230-pound freshman but checked in around 280 as a sophomore.

"I became a D-lineman really quickly," he said.

Brown didn't start playing football until his sophomore year but took little time to adjust. He immediately earned a starting job on the varsity squad and played both ways as a left tackle and a defensive tackle.

Though he didn't put down his hockey skates and continued to compete as a center and a defenseman, his focus gradually shifted more toward the gridiron.

"I've always been a contact sport kind of guy," Brown said. "This is as contact as you get, unless it's rugby. So I immediately was drawn to the game. Football's definitely my sport now."

Brown's keen ability to acclimate has been tested at Minnesota, where last fall he turned in a strong season with 34 tackles, seven stops for loss, three sacks, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. The 6-foot-2, 310-pound senior will be playing for his fourth defensive coordinator in as many years as Big Ten veteran Kevin Cosgrove takes over in Minneapolis this season.

The Gophers' defense made strides last year under Ted Roof, improving 39 spots in the national rankings after setting team records for futility in 2007. But Roof left for Auburn in January and head coach Tim Brewster brought in Cosgrove, who had success at Wisconsin in the late 1990s.

The front four loses rush end Willie VanDeSteeg but returns an experienced tackles tandem in Brown and Eric Small.

"Coach Cosgrove has put a system in that is very, very simplified and lets us play fast," Brown said. "I'm used to that transition of, 'OK, now I have to learn a new system.' I think I learned the system in a week and a half."

There's no doubt Brown is a quick study, a trait that will come in handy as he goes through another transition after his playing days. He wants to become a sports agent and plans to enroll in law school when he's through on the field.

"I pick up most things pretty quickly," he said. "That's just the way I am."