‘It’s weird’: How 2 Baltimore Ravens rookies grew really, really close

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A common scene plays out in the Baltimore Ravens locker room most days before practice. Players trickle in and out, some sit listening to music or scrolling through phones and others begin changing from street clothes into football uniforms.

And then there’s laughter emanating from back of the room, where rookies Mark Andrew and Orlando Brown Jr. sit shoulder to shoulder.

Andrews, a tight end on pace to break Baltimore’s rookie receiving records at the position, might be relaying a story to Brown, who’s impressed coaches in three starts at right tackle. Or maybe Brown’s showing a funny photo to his college buddy. Whatever the case, it’s rare for reporters to spend time in the locker room without spotting two of Baltimore’s most promising young players chopping it up at their lockers.

But the talking stops when you asked the friends about their relationship. Awkward glances ensue. Brown looks down at the floor and then over to Andrews out of the side of his eye, wary of seeming too vulnerable.

“I’m not going to lie, bro,” Brown says. “It’s kind of weird. Like, we’ve be knowing each other since we were 18. Like, it’s weird.”

Then he chuckles. It’s not uncommon for men in their early 20s to struggle explaining their feelings about those closest to them.

In fairness to Brown, though, his friendship with Andrews is somewhat wild.

They were teammates at Oklahoma, who both arrived in Norman in 2014 and redshirted together. They both entered the lineup in 2015 and became team leaders in ‘17. Then they declared for the drafted around the same time, hired the same agent (Justin Schulman of Athletes First) and trained for the combine at the same facility in Santa Ana, California.

They stayed in the same apartment complex during that time, just a few doors apart.

Then came the draft. The Ravens took Brown with the No. 83 overall pick in the third round, and three selections later, they chose Andrews. The two college teammates arrived at the Under Armour Performance Center to find their lockers right next to each other.

“We’re around each other all the time, man,” Andrew said.

They tease and chuckle, but each former Sooner credits his college teammate with providing a calming presence and valuable familiarity as they enjoy strong rookie seasons. Andrews and Brown have emerged as bright spots for the Ravens during a rocky nine-game start to the season, which leaves the team at 4-5 entering their bye week.

Just a year ago, Brown and Andrews were strengthening their bond at Oklahoma. As leaders on a Top 5 team, they gained confidence and maturity together. But they had their fun. Brown said he often teased Andrews about a lack of swag, and they’d ask members of the Oklahoma media corps to rate their suaveness.

Andrews decided to film Brown asleep on a coach one day to gain an upper hand in the battle.

“He always said he had more swag than I did,” Andrews said. “So I caught him in the meeting room with his hands in his pants, toes, raggedy clothes. Everything. So I had a video and posted it on Twitter.”

Brown said he could tell college stories to embarrass his friend but chose to take the high road.

“I got so much [stuff] dude,” Brown said, smiling at Andrews.

After Oklahoma’s 2017 season ended with a loss to Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Brown and Andrews signed with Athlete First. They didn’t choose together, they said, but it’s common for agents to recruit multiple players from the same school.

So, together, off they went to Santa Ana. The days training for the combine were grueling, Brown and Andrews said.

“Dude that time was such a blur,” Brown said. “It was just workouts, workouts again, video games and maybe get something to eat.”

Too tired to do much else, Andrews and Brown would hang out in their rooms to play Star Wars Battlefront 2. Or Andrews would beat Brown at FIFA, a soccer video game. And they had a restaurant they’d attend with other players training at the facility: Mastro’s Steakhouse.

Preparing for the combine represents a challenging time for many players, who leap right into vigorous workouts after long college seasons and begin to stress about their draft status. Andrews said a close friend in the same apartment complex made things less hectic.

“It was a grind,” Andrew said, “but it’s been good just having someone that you know and that you’re familiar with throughout the process.”

Since arriving in Baltimore, Brown and Andrews have continued to lean on each other for companionship in the locker room and outside of it. They ate at Jimmy’s Famous Seafood together and went fishing in the Chesapeake Bay, among other Baltimore-inspired activities.

More important for the Ravens, both players have provided reason for hope on the field.

While first-round rookie tight end Hayden Hurst recovered from a foot surgery early this season, Andrews emerged as a playmaker in the passing game. Andrews racked up 244 receiving yards through nine games and is closing in on the team record for rookie tight ends, which Maxx Williams set with 268 yards in 2015.

“Everybody is seeing what [Andrews] can do,” Ravens tight ends coach Greg Roman said this week. “He’s still a young guy, still learning. He’s gaining very valuable experience. All that experience will iterate through time with him – he’s that kind of guy.”

After beginning the season as a reserve, Brown started the past three games at right tackle in place of the injured James Hurst. He earned praise from scouting sites, analysts and coaches for his performances and has a strong case to remain in the lineup even after Hurst gets healthy.

“He’s growing as a young man,” offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said. “He’s learning to be a pro. They did a wonderful job out in Oklahoma with him also. … He’s come here, learned a different game, a different style, and he’s grasped it. He loves football. He likes to grow with technique and fundamentals and assignment. He’s starting to blossom.”

Meanwhile, Brown and Andrews have maintained their friendship, even while dealing with the rigors that come with a first NFL season. They’re so tight-knit that both joked about needing time to get away from each other.

But Andrews plans to use his bye week to travel back to Norman and watch the Sooners face Oklahoma State on Saturday. And Brown?

“Yeah,” he said , shrugging, “I’m going, too.”

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