Everette Brown knows you will be watching, even if you're not necessarily watching him.
He knows you will be watching the first round of the draft Thursday night, to see what might have been for the Carolina Panthers if they hadn't traded that pick for him a year ago.
He knows you will be watching Chicago, to see what Julius Peppers is doing.
And he knows you will be watching the Panthers defense this year, looking for a drop-off that he feels responsible for preventing, whether that's fair or not.
The Panthers' solemn second-year defensive end knows it won't all fall solely on his increasingly broad shoulders, but that doesn't prevent him from feeling a little responsible.
"Well, I would be lying if I said I didn't feel any pressure," Brown said softly, which is pretty much the way he says everything. "I know where the standards are. They're set very high. And that's a great thing, because I set high standards for myself.
"Julius came here and did great things, but when he decided to move on, that creates opportunities for the next guy at the position."
Time to gamble
The tenuous situation with Peppers a year ago left the Panthers knowing they would need more pass rush, sooner or later. At the time they made the move to get Brown, Peppers was upset about his franchise tag-mandated $16.7 million contract, with no intent to show up before he had to. They thought he would be there for training camp in August and he was, but on that late-April weekend, nothing was certain.
So as the second round began, they got on the phone with San Francisco. Their 2010 first-rounder (which ended up the 17th overall) went west for a second and a fourth. Brown came with the 43rd overall pick, and they took a flier on the potential of running back Mike Goodson with the fourth.
It was more than a bit of a gamble, as Brown came in undersized (barely getting to 250 pounds), young (leaving school a year early and 21 years old when they drafted him) and of a pedigree which hasn't guaranteed success. Florida State pass rushers have become flagged as risks, like Florida wide receivers and Notre Dame quarterbacks, and though scouts try to work past that mental block, it exists for a reason.
With veterans in front of him, he played less than 40 percent of the Panthers defensive snaps, and managed 2.5 sacks, 16 pressures and two forced fumbles in that time. The pressures were third on the team though, behind only Peppers and Damione Lewis, the guys he spent the year learning from who played nearly twice as many snaps as he did.
Now, Brown is reshaping himself in anticipation for his turn in the spotlight. He tried the easy path to gaining weight last year, chugging protein shakes, eating the kind of stuff kids eat. The grind of his first 20-game season (including preseason) had him sweating out that easy water weight, and left him an easy mark for opposing tackles midway through the year.
By his own admission, he was getting pushed around a bit by midseason, so among other things he hired a personal chef to keep him eating right.
Now, Brown has a carefully prescribed menu, right down to the club sandwich for a late-night snack that he downs at the end of his day - "usually no later than 9," which shows something of his off-field habits as well.
There was a cruise this offseason, the team-sponsored fan event, on which he learned that Lewis, quarterback Jake Delhomme and three other vets were released. That lesson in the cold reality of business jarred him, and reinforced the lessons he has learned from mentors no longer here.
And he responded the way he has always responded - by working, whether that's in the weight room, watching film, whatever.
You can see the change. He has added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason, making him a more solid-looking 260 pounds which he hopes helps him hold up against the run better. The diet helps, but you don't change the way you look the way he has without sweat, and his willingness to offer that up was evident.
Linebacker Jon Beason called Brown "the perfect rookie," and said he was impressed immediately when they worked out together before training camp last year.
"He gets it," Beason said. "I could tell from working with Everette how much getting better means to him. He works extremely hard. He knows what he has to do. We're going to need him to be better on first and second down, but when you look at him last year, you can tell he knows how to pass-rush."
He had better, because unlike in previous seasons, there is no Peppers to serve as a safety net. Fair or not, he's going to be scrutinized this year, and the success of the Panthers front four will depend on him delivering.
"I'm not saying I'm Julius Peppers or anything like that," Brown said. "I'm going to be the best Everette Brown that Everette Brown can be. I'm excited about it. I don't feel any burden - it's good pressure. Who doesn't want to be in this situation, where they feel like they can be a leader, they can be contagious for the whole team?
"That's a great opportunity for me."