Ahmarean Brown’s needle pointing up for Georgia Tech

09/07/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets wide receiver Ahmarean Brown (10) returns a punt during the first half against the South Florida Bulls at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, Saturday, September 7, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

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09/07/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets wide receiver Ahmarean Brown (10) returns a punt during the first half against the South Florida Bulls at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, Saturday, September 7, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

In coach Geoff Collins’ first season, the play of freshman wide receiver Ahmarean Brown was one of the bright spots in a Georgia Tech season that ended in last place in the ACC Coastal Division.

As his sophomore season approaches, Brown is being expected to shine with even greater radiance.

“Ahmarean Brown is even better than he was last year,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “He’s put on some size, some strength. He understands the game more, he understands how to set people up, he understands coverages a lot better. He’s playing at a very, very high level. I don’t think there’s going to be very many guys across the country that are going to be more explosive than him. He’s very fast.”

Last year, Brown’s performance was superlative for a freshman. As the Yellow Jackets’ starting slot receiver from the season opener, Brown led the Jackets in receptions (21), receiving yards (396) and touchdown catches (seven). His seven touchdown receptions tied for third nationally among freshmen and also equaled Calvin Johnson’s school record for touchdown catches by a freshman. His 33 receiving yards per game were third among freshmen in the ACC.

Using speed, quickness and a remarkable ability to track downfield passes, Brown showed a knack for getting behind defenses for big plays. Six of his 21 catches went for 30 yards or more, tied  for 10th in the ACC. He showed in-season progress, catching five of his seven touchdown passes in the final six games.

“I think towards the end of the season is where I began to pick things up,” he said.

His increased ability to read and exploit defensive coverages will serve him and the Tech offense well. Brown spoke of his greater comfort as he goes into the year, which begins with the Sept. 12 season opener at Florida State.

“I learned a lot about defenses, like I said, reading coverages on option routes and knowing where I need to be so me and the quarterback have a connection and we’re on the same page,” Brown said. “I think last year was a huge step for me moving forward in my college career, and I’m just trying to make the best of it.”

Brown’s listed weight on his 5-foot-10 frame increased from 155 pounds last year to 170. Brown said he was “a little undersized” last season, but now feels comfortable going across the middle to make plays.

“We were on him a lot about his weight this offseason, just trying to get his weight up and strengthen his hands,” wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon said. “One of the things that we saw watching film was that contested catches was something he needed to work on – catching balls in traffic, and when somebody tries to knock your hands down, being able to secure the ball. And that just comes with strength.”

For his leadership and effort, Brown was awarded with a coveted single-digit jersey, No. 2, as he traded in the No. 10 he wore as a freshman.

“For us, it’s a big deal to rock a single digit, and I’m just blessed to have it,” he said.

Brown figures to have more opportunities given the expected development of the offensive line and progress at quarterback, regardless of who starts at quarterback. Further, it stands to reason that the running back position, perhaps the strongest group on the team, will give defenses even more reason to play the run, clearing space in the secondary.

Brown’s wide-receiver group ought to be better, as well. Jalen Camp, back from a season-ending injury, has been a “tough matchup,” Patenaude said, because of his ability to use his strength and size against defensive backs. Patenaude said that Marquez Ezzard, Malachi Carter and Adonicas Sanders have played well.

Patenaude also mentioned that Pejé Harris, who caught one pass last year as a redshirt freshman, has earned a lot more practice repetitions and could be in position for more playing time. Patenaude said he has seen greater understanding from the group about how to play the offense and read defenses to find open spots.

Conversely, Brown should expect more attention from defenses designed to keep him covered. His explosive speed won’t catch cornerbacks and safeties by surprise. But, he’ll be more ready for them, too.

“‘A.B.’ looks phenomenal,” Dixon said. “He’s taken his game to another level.”