Ibraheim Campbell has been revered for his smarts for years. His three older brothers attended Georgetown, Bloomsburg and Cornell, respectively, and Campbell was a three-time academic All-Big Ten honoree during his decorated career at Northwestern.
Smarts take you far in the NFL, particularly when it comes to picking up the playbook. It's a source of pride for the Browns rookie safety, who called his mastery of the X's and O's "important." It allows him to play faster and move without thinking hard about where and when he's supposed to be in a particular place.
Still, there was no level of studying that could have prepared Campbell for his NFL debut last week against the Washington Redskins. And there's no substitute for the amount of work he received in the form of a defense-high 49 snaps.
"No matter how smart you are, some certain things you kind of have to experience to understand," Campbell said. "Even if you can see it, you have to kind of live through it to really understand it. That's kind of the process I'm going through."
That process was taken to a whole different level against the Redskins, and it's expected to continue Thursday in his return to FirstEnergy Stadium against the Bills. Injuries in the defensive backfield coupled with an understandable quick hook for a veteran such as Donte Whitner has allowed the Browns to get a good look at their fourth-round pick throughout the preseason.
Campbell is capable of playing both spots in the back of the secondary and is considered a "core" special teams player. He's been busy, and that's how he likes it.
"The more you can do and understand, the better off you'll be," Campbell said. "With anything, versatility helps you as a player just to kind of be able to play different spots and understand the defense and know where other people have to be because you could be there or somewhere else."
That's why the Browns are grooming Campbell and Jordan Poyer to be able to fill in at multiple spots in the defensive backfield. Tashaun Gipson's season-ending injury last year would have been a much tougher blow if the Browns didn't have someone such as savvy veteran Jim Leonhard ready to fill in and know all the ins and outs of the position.
Injuries and a position switch have left Cleveland relatively light at safety since training camp started. Brandon Stephens was released shortly after he went down with an injury and undrafted signee De'Ante Saunders has been sidelined for more than a week. Johnson Bademosi, who played safety last season, has worked almost exclusively at cornerback.
The Browns coveted Campbell for months before the draft, as they interviewed him at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine and ultimately snatched him with their first pick of Day 3 of the draft. He came highly recommended from Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who compared Campbell to Leonhard and said he could eventually develop into a leader on defense.
Less than four months into his Browns career, Campbell has immersed himself in everything that will help him match those lofty expectations.
"All I really wanted was an opportunity to play at this level and that's what I have here," Campbell said. "I'm going to try to make the most of it. It's simple as that.
"I'm prepared to play every snap. Whatever they tell me to do, I'll do it."