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April 26, 2011

Linebackers show new growth in spring

There's some flash in his everyday wardrobe.

Away from the football field, Arthur Brown doesn't shy away from a well-shined pair of alligator shoes or a slightly titled fedora. When he's in or around Kansas State's Vanier Football Complex, on the other hand, the flare is smothered. Instead, the University of Miami transfer appears almost robotic. Wearing a team-issued black blazer, he stares through people's eyes, hardly shifting his posture and never, not even for a moment, glancing away from the person to whom he is speaking.

If Frank Martin still holds ownership of most imposing stare in Manhattan, he's in for a challenge. The scary part is the fact that the No. 1 contender isn't even angry.

Brown has met with the press just twice since spring practices got under way weeks ago and hasn't played in a single game. Even so, people are starting to get it. On Tuesday, observations were stated.

"I don't smile much?" Brown said, turning a statement lobbed in his direction into a question, all the while proving it accurate by continuing his stoic, but intense gaze. "I guess not, but I do enjoy and appreciate the opportunity that I have here, though."

This face, the one with the laser beam eyes piercing through the back of people's heads as they talk, is the new billboard for K-State's linebackers, a unit Bill Snyder has tabbed the most improved position group on the field. And it's not as though the veteran head coach was making some kind of bold proclamation or letting a secret out of the bag with his decree. All it takes a simple eye test to hammer his point home.

Gone are the days of Wildcat linebackers exhibiting builds to match casual weight lifters or the most imposing member of a Greek-letter-wearing flag football squad. The three men expected to line up as starters at the position when the 2011 season opens look like ... well, linebackers. Wins and losses aren't determined by flex-offs, sure, but for a team that has lacked in the intimidation department in recent years, the new look a start.

"We're faster, that goes without saying," Snyder said. "We're bigger. (Tre Walker) was the biggest, now he's the smallest. We're physically a little better orientated to play the game than what we were last year."

The heights and weights are measurable, and reading the bios of Walker, Brown and Emmanuel Lamur reveal those. The group comes in at 6-foot-3, 6-foot-2, 6-foot-4 respectively. Combined weight? 655 pounds.

John Houlik's round, 5-foot-9 frame isn't here anymore.

Instead, standing at the center of the current group is Brown. Even before he makes a peep, his presence is felt. He says all the right things, leaving Snyder to point out how wonderful the linebacker is in interview settings. There's no chest-thumping or bulletin board material, just a worn-in brick facade and an understated sour attitude. He cracks a grin momentarily, but the circumstances surrounding the smile suit his demeanor perfectly.

The chink in the junior's otherwise skull-hard armor comes when discussing the time he knocked out his younger brother's teeth with a particularly vicious hit at peewee football practice. Bryce Brown, who now plays running back for the Wildcats, isn't in the room to defend himself for Arthur's stroll down memory lane, but the man claiming to dole out the jaw-jarring hit, for the first time, seems pleased with himself.

"I just remember it was when we were younger and it was blindside hit," Brown said, recalling the incident. "We were in pads and everything.

"I think it was second grade."

The mindset is spreading. According to Snyder, K-State's rush defense, which yielded an embarrassing 231 yards per game a season ago, allowed just 3.4 per carry in a recent scrimmage. The driving force behind what the coach views as dramatic improvement? Take a guess.

"It's not just Arthur," Snyder said. "You have Tre Walker, who has a year of experience. I'd be tremendously disappointed if he wasn't getting better and better. He played a good portion of last year without having a clue about what he was doing. Emmanuel is a very fine athlete and gives you range, size and speed. They make the position better. When I say we're collectively better at that position, I mean collectively."

Improved as the position group may be, taking a defense from putrid to prominent won't be an easy task. That said, all three starters know the stakes and remember the season they're now being asked to help to erase.

"If they don't (get it), then we have some real serious problems and I'm worried that they will even be eligible," Snyder said.

"They understand that they stink."

Action, not talk, wins football games, and that won't be apparent until next season, but Brown, leading a bigger, stronger group of linebackers, at least has the look of man that intends to do rather than say.

"(Last season) is always going to be a reinforcement for us," Brown said. "We're really reinvesting our time in being better. We've been making progress. Coach is pretty excited about what he's seen."


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