Back in the spring of 2009, life was grand for the Indianapolis Colts, their fans and their newly-minted first-round draft pick, Connecticut running back Donald Brown . The Colts were coming off another division title and, though the 2008 season ended short of the Super Bowl, we were all on the cusp of an amazing 2009 campaign which could have turned into something really special, but at least did give fans another year of championship-calibre football. Brown fit right into the mold of the franchise and our expectations as fans, because he was an unassuming, though talented, runner who we thought could turn into something special, as well. After a couple of very disappointing years and a fall through the depth chart in August of 2011, Brown has emerged as one of the few bright spots in a lost season for the Colts.
When Brown was drafted with the 27th overall pick nearly three years ago, we all thought that he could be a strong backup to incumbent Joseph Addai and might eventually force the Colts into a running back-by-committee situation. After all, Addai is at his best when he's blocking for quarterback Peyton Manning or for other runners, and the resultant punishment has made him fragile. Lots of carries, it seemed, were there for Brown's taking. The problem was that Brown shied away from contact, which diminished his own value as a blocker and also limited his rushing yardage, because second efforts were pretty much non-existent.
The perception of a lackadaisical style of play didn't sit well with Colts fans, and it didn't help that Brown's production seemed to back up our feelings. His 281 yards as a rookie were followed up by just 497 as a sophomore, while his per-carry average lurked south of the four-yard mark. Throw in a paltry five touchdowns and a fairly terrible training camp in 2011, and you might understand why many of us had our "bust" stickers ready, just waiting to plaster on Brown's forehead.
Over the course of this season, though, Brown's situation has changed a bit. Addai continues to present like a china doll, with this or that bodypart cracking under the stress on a weekly basis. Fan darling Delone Carter, who was supposed to fix the Colts' third-and-short woes, seems to have fallen out of favor with coach Jim Caldwell. All of which has led to increased playing time for Brown as the season has progressed, and he has started to look like the potential featured back we thought he might become.
With a 161-yard performance, including an 80-yard touchdown run, against the Tennessee Titans on December 18, Brown staked his claim as the hero of the season for the Colts, who rode his performance to their first win of 2011 . Will it be enough for Brown to completely erase the "bust" label? For me, it's darn close, and I think his recent performances may allow the Colts to cut ties with Addai next season. After all, a new era in Indianapolis football is dawning, and the franchise needs to figure out who is likely to be a part of their next contending team.
Donald Brown has that look.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Colts fans since the team arrived in Indianapolis on a snowy morning in 1984. The Blue and White eventually replaced the Chicago Bears as his #1 team, and Super Bowl XLI was a dream come true.