Sep 29, 2013; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown (31) runs for 50 yards as Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Mike Harris (20) chases him in the second quarter of their game at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
19 carries, 157 yards, and an average of 8.3 yards per play. Who’s numbers are those? Well if you read the title of this article, I am sure you already know. His 8.3 average is tops among running backs with at least 150 yards. Houston’s Ben Tate is second (6.2).
Donald Brown’s struggles at pass protection is well documented. Many Colts fans remember “Dammit Donald” in the divisional round of the playoffs in his rookie year against the Baltimore Ravens. For those who don’t, look no further than week 2 this season against the Miami Dolphins. On a crucial 4th and 10 inside the redzone, last play of the game and down by 4, Brown is lined up in the shotgun and completely whiffs on the blitzing linebacker right up the middle. His inability to get his body on the blitzing linebacker ends up in an Andrew Luck sack and the Dolphins win the game.
Criticism has been nothing new for Donald Brown, and has followed him everywhere during his career. Brown was taken with the 27th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Colts. After he led the NCAA in rushing in his final season at Connecticut, many considered Brown to be the next in a line of top-tier Colts running backs that included Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai.
Brown played in 11 games during the regular season behind Joseph Addai, and averaged 3.6 yards per carry and 281 rushing yards. Addai spent a lot of time injured in 2010, and Brown filled in nicely in 13 games averaging 3.9 yards a carry and 497 rushing yards. In fact, Donald Brown led the team in rushing in 2010 (497 yards) and ’11 (645 yards).
Unfortunately for Brown, his inconsistent play led to a lot of criticism and proved to everyone that Brown would never live up to his expectations of being a full time starting running back in the NFL. A lot of that criticism might have been unfair in large part to who Bill Polian and staff passed over in that 2009 NFL Draft, including other Big East RB LeSean McCoy and the fact that the Colts haven’t had a 1000 yard rusher since his back-to-back performance in Joseph Addai’s rookie and sophomore years.
After Owner Jim Irsay cleaned house and drastically changed the Colts environment following their 2-14 season in 2011, Colts fans may have been surprised to find Brown’s name still alive on that final roster, let alone the roster heading into training camp. After the release of Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark and the firing of Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian, Brown knew he had to have a breakout year due to the fact that he had no ties with new GM and head coach. The staff who drafted him was no longer there.
Brown got off to a hot start through four weeks of the 2012 season as the starting running back, averaging almost 4 (3.98) yards a carry. After a late game injury against the Packers in which Brown ran for a season best 84 yards, the team announced the next Wednesday that Brown tore cartilage in his knee that required surgery. From there on out, the starting RB position belonged to rookie Vick Ballard.
Donald Brown found himself in an uncertain spot heading into the 2013 NFL Season. Things did not look good for Brown when the Colts decided to sign Ahmad Bradshaw in the offseason. The rotation of running backs seemed predetermined between Ballard, Bradshaw, and Carter. The Colts also drafted a quick, small, “home-run hitting” type running back with the last pick in Kerwynn Williams. What they could get in Williams seemed exactly the same as Brown except for the fact that Brown does not have the skill set Williams has as a returner on special teams. Thankfully for Brown, Carter found himself being traded after getting into trouble and Bradshaw was not playing at all during the preseason due to an injury.
Brown had plenty of opportunities to prove himself on the field in preseason. I was quite impressed in what I saw, especially in the passing game and noted that Brown’s hands will find him on the final roster. Brown played well and receieved praise form head coach Chuck Pagano throughout camp as he continued to state that Brown had a role in the offense. Although its hard to not get caught up in talk, especially as people eagerly wait for the start of the season, Pagano didn’t seem to be giving us “talk” as Ryan Grigson and staff shipped another player who was in very similar shoes on the defensive side of the ball in Jerry Hughes away to the Buffalo Bills.
While one move helps, another seems to hurt, and that seems to be the story yet again for Donald Brown this season. Brown looked to be buried on the depth chart behind Bradshaw and Ballard, yet after a Ballard injury, looked to have more time. Suddenly Brown found himself behind Bradshaw and Trent Richardson after the trade. Now that Bradshaw and Ballard are down for the season, Brown is ready to impress.
Being in his last year of his contract, Brown really needs to step up. Thankfully for Brown, things are looking good. There is no doubt that Brown is a change-of-pace back and nothing more. The way Brown has ripped off big yards, he has at least lived up to his humble title. Brown’s 50 yard run up the middle against the Jacksonville really got our attention. Brown has continued to show his ability to “change the pace” with his running up the middle against the Seahawks last weekend too. The secret to Browns success seems to come in the shotgun. It was a trap block that broke Brown free on a handoff from the gun up the middle against the Jaguars. It was a trap block that broke Brown free for 16 against the Seahawks and the big 3 yard touchdown to take the lead late in the fourth.
The next question is will the Colts make any effort to give Brown a significantly larger role? The Colts recently just signed RB Daniel “Boom” Herron from the Bengals practice squad. At Ohio State University, Herron was much more productive, totaling 2,869 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns, as well as 309 receiving yards and a touchdown. The 5’10”, 210 big bodied running back is identical to Brown and might just take his snaps depending on how coaches feel about him in practice. Brown has even lost snaps to FB Stanley Havili at the backup running back at times this season. Brown will need every chance he can get to prove he can fully handle the backup role and continue to make home run type plays if he wants a spot on the team nest year. It will be interesting to watch just how much coaches are willing to use Brown if he can continue to play well. With this being Brown’s last contract season, is he “running for his career?” I think its safe to believe so.