Sports

/

ArcaMax

Bucs rookie Chris Braswell a package of ferocity, fleetness, faith

Joey Knight, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Football

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — He wore neither bling nor bold colors the night the Bucs drafted him. Instead, University of Alabama edge rusher Chris Braswell opted for a white robe, a Muslim symbol of positivity and purity.

On a night his name drew national attention, the attire might have been dismissed as a superficial gesture of faith, but Braswell had long since quelled any such skepticism. For years, this 255-pound package of burst and brute strength had worn his Muslim faith on his sleeve and soul, had refused to compromise it for secular joy or even job interviews.

When Alabama held its pro day in late March, Braswell was fasting in observance of Ramadan and would put no food in his body until that evening.

He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds.

“(Ramadan) is one of the pillars of Islam and that’s a good way to cleanse your body, good mental discipline,” he said.

Long before being recruited by Nick Saban, Braswell — picked 57th overall by the Bucs in late May — already was betrothed to a process. As a result, the Bucs have a rookie with a high ceiling, and higher level of conviction.

“I don’t eat pork, I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t smoke,” he said.

Yet quarterbacks remain a shameless indulgence. The second guy selected by the Bucs in what coach Todd Bowles has deemed one of the team’s “smarter” draft classes, Braswell was drafted based on his breakthrough 2023 season at Alabama.

An outlier of sorts who waited his turn in a deep edge rusher room instead of transferring, Braswell made only two starts over the last two seasons. Yet he played in every game in that span, ranking second on the 2023 team with eight sacks while totaling 42 tackles, blocking a field goal and returning an interception 28 yards for a touchdown against Mississippi State.

All in a system with the same base look (3-4) and tendencies as Bowles’.

“Braswell, he’s a very strong player,” Bowles said during last week’s mandatory minicamp.

“The system is similar with some things to Alabama, it’s just the terminology is different. Once he gets comfortable with that, I think he’s kind of like Yaya (Diaby) — he’s a physical player. He’ll show more when the pads come on.”

Physically, Braswell appeared to handle his initial NFL orientation — the non-padded rituals of rookie minicamp, organized team activities and the three-day mandatory minicamp — with no issues. Listed at the same playing weight he had in college, he brandished a noticeable burst off the edge, registering two pseudo sacks in 11-on-11 work on Day 1 of camp.

“It’s still physical here, but Coach Saban’s practices were very, very hard,” he said. “Very hard.”

 

From a cerebral standpoint, he concurred with Bowles on the similarities between the Tide and Tampa Bay schemes.

“It’s almost actually similar,” he said. “Like, a lot of the play-calling, we have almost the same type of terminology, just different drops. This is more of a true zone; ‘Bama wasn’t a true zone, so it’s a little bit different here as far as dropping-wise. Everything else is pretty much the same.”

If his evolution continues on its current track, he could figure significantly in an edge rush rotation that bid adieu to veteran Shaquil Barrett in the offseason, and might do the same to veteran Randy Gregory, a recent signee whose mandatory minicamp absence was unexcused.

That leaves Braswell in the room alongside Diaby, fourth-year veteran Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, sixth-year veteran Anthony Nelson and a handful of rookies and second-year players vying for a roster spot.

“Man, (Braswell) really asks questions, he asks a lot of questions,” Diaby said. “And it’s fun to really see him out there just doing little things, and it’s impressive. I’m impressed so far.”

But the sacks and swim moves are counterbalanced by a stern devotion to a faith he embraced at age 10 while growing up in Baltimore. Prior to the Crimson Tide’s College Football Playoff semifinal against Michigan in the Rose Bowl in January, Braswell and some other teammates who practice Islam traveled to the Islamic Center of Southern California.

During the fasting period of Ramadan, he abstained not only from food, but from what he called “all negativity.”

“Staying away from music, playing video games and stuff like that,” he said. “So that’s more of a time where you want to kind of hunker down, read the Quran and everything like that, and work on practicing Arabic and reciting your recitations.”

To this point, his faith and football life have coexisted without either being compromised. In the next four years, Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, is set to commence at the end of the NFL regular season (early February or late January). However, it’s set to begin in early January or late December in the next decade.

“A lot of people think (Ramadan fasting) is hard but it’s really not,” Braswell said.

“Sundown, as soon as the sun goes down, after Maghrib prayer — which is like our sundown prayer or evening prayer — you pretty much can eat whatever you want. Normally, people think it’s hard, but you’re just flipping it. So normally you eat throughout the day, but during Ramadan you just eat throughout the night.”

____


©2024 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus