Until today, when he was arrested and charged with intoxication manslaughter for an overnight accident that killed his friend and longtime teammate Jerry Brown, all outward appearances in the press were that Josh Brent was maturing into a solid NFL pro. That after jeopardizing his career with a misdemeanor DUI charge in college.
His senior year at the University of Illinois was torpedoed by that charge and by academic ineligibility—a harbinger, in hindsight, but one that didn't keep him from making the NFL. In 2010 the Cowboys scooped up the nose tackle in the supplementary draft (their first such pick since 1995) and stuck him behind Jay Ratliff. A phenomenal natural athlete who won an Illinois high school state title in shot put, Brent got time to ease into the pros after a year away from competitive football. This is from a February 2011 short profile that appeared in the Bloomington, Ill., Pantagraph:
"It was like a redshirt year in college, but yet, I still got to play," Brent said of his first season with the Dallas Cowboys. "It was probably needed in order for me to have a chance to learn the game and get used to everything.
"It was probably a blessing in disguise."
The 6-foot-2, 315-pound Brent was the backup to Dallas All-Pro nose tackle Jay Ratliff, recording 16 tackles in limited duty. He also was on the Cowboys' kickoff return team.
Brent eased into NFL life in the shadow of Ratliff, a six-year veteran who made his third straight Pro Bowl.
"I didn't have the pressure being the backup that Jay has being the All-Pro," Brent said.
"To learn from him and try to mold myself into something similar to him … that's what I'm trying to do."
This season he was filling in ably and had seen time in all but one of Dallas' games. In September Jason Garrett said of Brent, "He's gotten an opportunity to play, and he's shown up." In 12 games this season he notched as many tackles as he had in his first 27 games as a pro. Last weekend, it was Brent who forced the fumble that essentially decided the game against the Eagles. With the Cowboys up 4 late and Philly driving, he bopped the ball away from Bryce Brown; Cowboys corner Morris Claiborne scooped and scored from midfield. Ball game, Dallas. The ESPNDallas item about him after the game was headlined "Josh Brent's value goes up with Cowboys."
Now: gone. And until his case advances, we're left with this quote as the ringing sound of Brent and whatever decisions he has made. In the summer of 2009, the Philadelphia Daily News ran this short item on him:
No one enjoyed summer practice more than Illinois defensive tackle Josh Brent, who spent 30 days in Champaign County Jail for a misdemeanor DUI offense. "You get a new outlook on life and some of the mistakes I've made," said Brent, whose playing status remains undecided by coach Ron Zook. "You realize a lot of things [while in jail]; how naive and dumb you can be sometimes."