SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers right tackle Trent Brown was relatively anonymous when he worked out at the same Miami gym as Denver Broncos star pass rusher Von Miller before the 2015 NFL draft.
At that point, Miller had already established himself as one of the league's premiere pass rushers. Brown was a fringe prospect out of Florida known more for his imposing size -- he's listed at 6-foot-8, 355 pounds -- than his ability to block.
Brown said that Miller didn't know who he was.
"When I was coming out in pre-draft training, we kind of trained together in Miami so he probably didn’t know my name," Brown said. "I’m pretty sure he didn’t know my name."
About a year-and-a-half later, Miller not only knows Brown's name but offered him about the highest praise a player of his caliber could give to an offensive lineman. Speaking to Denver teammate DeMarcus Ware on an NFL.com segment, Ware asked Miller to name the blocker that gives him the most trouble. Although Miller only saw Brown briefly in a pair of joint practices and a preseason game during this year's training camp, the Niners starting right tackle apparently made an impression as big as his frame.
“I feel like Trent Brown has a very bright future in the National Football League," Miller said. "He’s 6-foot-8. He knows how to use his arms, knows how to use his wingspan and he has length. So I feel like he’s young and people haven’t really seen him, but I feel like he’s one of the better tackles in the National Football League.”
High praise, to be sure, but the kind that actually stopped Brown in his tracks. Miller and Niners defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie are close friends and Jerod-Eddie had passed along Miller's praise since those practices. But it didn't sink in that the reigning Super Bowl MVP thought so highly of him until he heard Miller say it.
"To see the video, you see it come out of the horse’s mouth," Brown said. "I was just taken aback. There’s not many guys like Von Miller at all, really, so like I said just to see the video, I had been hearing about it for two days and for me to actually see it yesterday, I didn’t know what to do. I was speechless."
Of course, the mission for Brown now is to follow through on Miller's words and become a household name. The Niners selected Brown in the seventh round of the 2015 draft, No. 224 overall, in hopes that he could translate his enormous physical tools into production on the field. Brown played in five games with two starts in the season's final pair of games as a rookie, offering glimpses of potential along the way.
When coach Chip Kelly took over in January, speculation about the return of Anthony Davis started soon after, leaving many to assume Davis would simply reclaim his job upon his arrival. But Kelly said that when he and his coaching staff looked at the tape, they saw a lot of potential in the young tackle.
"We were very high on Trent when we got here," Kelly said. "I thought he finished on a really good note at the end of last season and he’s continuing to make strides every day, but there wasn’t a day where all of a sudden, ‘Hey, it clicked.’ I think since we’ve had our chance to get our hands on him, he’s been great.”
Great enough that Davis voluntarily shifted to right guard in acknowledgement of the fact that Brown was clearly one of the five best linemen on the roster. Throughout the preseason, Brown continued to garner praise from others such as left tackle Joe Staley, who compared Brown to Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden.
During one-on-one pass-rush drills in Denver, Brown more than held his own against Miller, which coincided with Davis' first reps at right guard. Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty and offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins have also offered compliments for Brown. The key now is performing on a weekly basis.
“I think we all share that opinion," Kelly said. "There’s not many people that are that big, that size, that athletic that can do what Trent can do. Now, the biggest thing for everybody to making that step is the consistency basis. Can you do it over time? But, he certainly is unique in his athletic ability matched with his size, which is very uncommon for this league to have someone that big, that athletic. But, I think we all share that and understand that. It’s just a matter of now him doing it on a consistent basis and proving it over time. But, what he’s doing isn’t a surprise to anybody that’s been around him every day because that’s what we see every day from a training standpoint.”
To achieve that type of consistency, it's up to Brown to make sure that all of the praise doesn't go to his head.
"I’m definitely going to build upon it," Brown said. "(This) just takes it to another level, I feel like, and I’ve just got to stay humble at the same time."