Detroit Lions turn to NFL journeyman Evan Brown to replace Pro Bowl C Frank Ragnow

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Evan Brown walked into the makeshift interview room in a garage in back of the Detroit Lions practice facility Wednesday and marveled at the setup: Light stands illuminating a lectern cordoned off by retractable ropes, with a gaggle of reporters waiting for him to step up to the microphone.

“Look at this,” he said.

For Brown, everything is new this week, from the media spotlight he enjoyed Wednesday to his assignment on the field: Starting center for the Lions.

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Brown is expected to replace injured center Frank Ragnow in the middle of the Lions offensive line for Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings and games the next two weeks against the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams.

Detroit Lions center Evan Brown (63) and guard Tommy Kraemer (78) get ready for a snap against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half of a preseason game at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.
Detroit Lions center Evan Brown (63) and guard Tommy Kraemer (78) get ready for a snap against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half of a preseason game at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.

He played 60 of a possible 71 snaps last week against the Chicago Bears, and by all accounts held his own on the field.

“I thought he played well,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “I thought he was solid. I thought he went in and really didn’t miss a beat. There was really only a couple of plays that I know he wishes he would have back, but I thought he went in and did a good job.”

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Brown, in his fourth NFL season, entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of SMU and spent the past three years bouncing around teams.

He made the New York Giants roster as a rookie in 2018, but did not appear in a game. He spent most of the following season on the Giants practice squad, then signed to the Miami Dolphins’ active roster late in the year.

Last year, Brown spent half the season with the Cleveland Browns before joining the Lions practice squad in December. He appeared in two late-season games in Detroit, playing guard and center, and earned high marks from teammates for his intelligence.

“Evan’s a very, very, very, very smart guy,” guard Jonah Jackson said. “He’s a highly intelligent dude. He knows ball, he knows what’s going on and he’s able to identify everything, process stuff fast. So when it comes to that aspect of the game, it’s not much of a drop-off at all.”

Detroit Lions quarterback David Blough (10) grabs a snap from center Evan Brown (63) against the Buffalo Bills during the second half of the preseason game at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.
Detroit Lions quarterback David Blough (10) grabs a snap from center Evan Brown (63) against the Buffalo Bills during the second half of the preseason game at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.

Once considered the team’s biggest strength, the Lions will be without at least two and possibly three starters on their offensive line this week. Ragnow and left tackle Taylor Decker are on injured reserve, and rookie first-round pick Penei Sewell did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury.

Ragnow, coming off a Pro Bowl season, is arguably the best center in the NFL, and the drop off from him to Brown is steep, though Brown said he is determined to make the transition seamless on the field.

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“I think that sitting behind Frank here these past three to four weeks here, and then also learning behind him, I got here five weeks left in the season last year, I’ve learned a lot just kind of sitting behind him and watching how he operates,” Brown said. “He’s obviously one of the best in the game so I’m going to do my best to keep things flowing in the right direction and keep us communicating well.”

Campbell said he has no plans to overhaul the Lions' communication system on offense in Ragnow's absence. Quarterback Jared Goff shared in protection calls with Ragnow, and will do the same with Brown.

Campbell acknowledged that Ragnow's absence will "hurt a little bit" — "Frank’s a hell of a player, man. He’s one of these top-notch players in this league," he said — but said he likes where Brown is at mentally and physically as a player.

"I’m just treating it just kind of the same as any other week," Brown said. "You prepare like you’re going to go in the game. This week, I just know I’m going in so I’m preparing the exact same way I would any other situation."

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Meet Frank Ragnow's replacement: Detroit Lions C Evan Brown