INDIANAPOLIS – Third-year running back Donald Brown is no different than many young players with the Colts and in the National Football League.
Brown has not been a full-time starter to this point of his career. As such, he has not been among the team's statistical leaders over the past two seasons. That does not mean, however, he cannot contribute if asked or needed.
Brown got his most exposure of the season last week against Kansas City when he and rookie Delone Carter shared time after Joseph Addai left the contest with a first-quarter hamstring injury. Brown produced by rushing for 38 yards on eight attempts. The number of attempts was behind Carter's 12, but his 4.8 rushing average led the team.
Addai's availability for the Cincinnati game this Sunday is not known. What is known is that there will be rushing attempts to be had. Should the moment happen where Brown's number is called, Head Coach Jim Caldwell has no hesitation in using him.
"I just think that he'll have some increased opportunities, obviously, if Joseph (Addai) can't go," said Caldwell. "He's certainly had a few more in this past week. We've been using him a little bit on third downs here lately. He got a few more carries after Joseph (Addai) went down, and I thought he played pretty well. So with a full week of preparation and maybe a few more opportunities, we'll see how well he does. I think he'll do well."
Brown started eight of 13 outings in 2010. After missing three early games with a hamstring injury, Brown received a greater dose of action when Addai was slowed by a neck injury. Brown rushed 129 times for 497 yards and two touchdowns, while catching 20 passes for 205 yards. He had seven games where he rushed 10 or more times, after having only three such chances in his 2009 rookie season. He had four games last year with 15 or more carries, with a high of 17 at New England, where he also had three receptions, including a key 25-yard snare to set up the club's first touchdown.
Brown's best career rushing game came a month later against Jacksonville, when he gained 129 yards on 14 rushes. Brown had a 49-yard run for the longest ground gain by a Colts back since 2004, and his 43-yard touchdown run was the longest scoring effort for an Indianapolis back since 2001.
Brown has been in the same offensive system all during his career here, and Caldwell sees a progression for him in the attack.
"I think that the experience has been really good for him over the years," said Caldwell. "He knows and understands (what we do). I do think he's improved, and I don't think there's any question about that. Oftentimes, you find that guys get a little bit better feel for what you're doing, they understand how to do it, they understand themselves a little bit better, where they fit in and how they're best suited to function. Donald has experienced all those things. He's gone a fall without necessarily having some of the setbacks that he had from a physical standpoint, so we hope that continues as well. I think those are part of the things they learn, how to take care of their body. Those kinds of things are extremely important in this league."
Brown is ready for any opportunity that might arise. For sure, he is confident in his ability to perform and he knows his dutiful approach is mirrored by the work of the team, too.
"That's (his confidence) for sure, and that's how we're practicing," said Brown. "We're practicing hard and whatever it takes to help the team win, because that's the ultimate goal, is what we'll do. We need to have as many guys healthy and ready as possible. It's a full team effort. We need to finish plays, string plays together and finish drives and I think we'll be all right."
Being certain the ability to run, catch and pass protect are essential in finding time on the field, Brown knows his career progression will continue with that versatility.
"I think that's the name of the game," he said. "The more you can do, the more assets you bring to the team the better off you are. You have to stay patient, keep working hard and your time will come."
Another third-year Colt is experiencing an emergence with a chance to play. Curtis Painter played during the final two games of his 2009 season, then went through all of 2010 without seeing the field. Painter worked extensively this past off-season with his teammates and his role in training camp was increased dramatically with the physical setback to Peyton Manning.
Painter has improved with the chance for more contributions. He shared backfield time with Brown in season-ending duty in 2009 when the club was preparing for the playoffs.
"The thing about Donald is he's a really smart guy. He's been around here a few years, so he's up on all the things he needs to be up on, protections, he knows his routes," said Painter. "He does a real good job with just the game management things. When he gets the ball in his hands he runs very well. He's bright and plays very well. He knows what he's supposed to do. He is one of those guys you can count on. He's going to be where he needs to be and do what he needs to do. He does a great job."
Brown and Painter share an even-keeled nature about themselves at all times. Caldwell believes it is a strength in Painter, though some observers who do not know him might differ. Painter hopes Brown's style is not misread by others, and it certainly is not by his teammates.
"It's a personality style," Painter said of Brown. "I hope it's not mis-interpreted. The thing that matters is the guys inside the locker room see what kind of player he is. They see the things he does."
Addai has a more engaging manner with his personality, and he has a keen insight into teammates. Addai has shared meetings, practice time and the backfield with Brown, and he likes Brown's progression.
"Donald is a smart, smart guy, very smart. He understands the offense. He understands what we need to do, everything," said Addai. "He's been getting better as far as protection, running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield. I think as far as us running the ball, we won't miss a beat with Donald running the ball."
With a bit more practice remaining for the club, Caldwell and the staff will use the time before the Cincinnati game to set the game strategy. Should Addai not be ready, he said it will not impact the offense.
"It will not affect us in terms of what we do," said Caldwell. "How we decide to divvy it up, in terms of who carries and how many times, we determine that toward the end of the week. We work through this week's practice and see where guys fit, where we think individuals are best suited – whether it's Donald in there at certain stages of the game, or Delone (Carter). We'll get a feel for that as we finish out the week."