Since 2006, when rookie Joseph Addai and veteran Dominic Rhodes combined to give the Colts a respectable running attack, Indianapolis has watched its ground game decline. When Bill Polian chose to bring in Donald Brown in the First Round of the 2009 NFL Draft, there was hope that things would begin to turn around. Finally, Indy would have a one-two punch rushing attack again. Except, it didn't happen that way at all. When Brown joined the Colts he struggled to pick up the system -- not too surprising since he left a college team with an offensive line sporting tackle William Beatty (Second Round pick), in the Big East (not the most powerful Division I conference in the NCAA). When he arrived in Indianapolis he had to run behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL -- especially with regard to run blocking. This change, along with his slow grasp of the offense (expressed by Manning below) held him back from being a major contributor in his first two seasons.
Now Brown is entering his third NFL season and in many ways, is still so unproven that the Colts were forced to do something they rarely do -- bring back an aging running back like Joseph Addai for insurance because they do not know what they have behind him. With the addition of First and Second Round rookie offensive linemen to the mix, and what appears to be an increased emphasis on size and strength in front of Colts rushers, Brown has a lot of proving to do.
Fourth Round rookie Delone Carter has joined the team specifically because he has the size to be a bowling ball option on short-yardage downs. Some NFL analysts, like Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson, even predict that Carter could be the early front runner for offensive rookie of the year. If Williamson is right, and if Addai continues to hold down the same kind of role he's held down since he took over as the starter in 2007, where does that leave Brown?
Those who have followed his career closely will point to a breakout game at home against the Jaguars in 2010, or a 36-yard run against the Patriots in New England, as signs that Brown is capable and beginning to come around. The problem is, even after those performances, he was not a major factor late in the season and did not make an impact against the New York Jets in the playoffs.
He cannot afford to get hurt in 2010. He cannot afford to have more YouTube worthy mistakes in the offensive scheme. He cannot afford to use the offensive line as an excuse anymore, no matter how accurate the excuse. Brown needs to make his mark in Indianapolis and on the NFL in 2010 or he risks a future of professional football mediocrity (if he has one at all).
Donald Brown is a very athletic and talented football player -- and early word from camp is that he is looking good. Look for him to put it all together this year, or look for him in the transaction wire. It's do or die time.