Colts Running Back Donald Brown More Comfortable Entering Second Season
INDIANAPOLIS – It is different this year, and for that, Donald Brown is thankful.
Because while Brown – the Colts' first-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft – made a contribution last season, and although he is confident he can make a dramatic improvement in the coming months, when he thinks back a year ago, he remembers a very different running back.
He was a year younger, but he said it was more than that.
He was brand new to the NFL.
He was a rookie, and he said, as such, not a lot came easy.
"I'm a lot more confident now than I was last season, that's for sure," Brown said recently following a session of the Colts' 2010 organized team activities, four weeks of on-field, team-oriented activities scheduled to be held through June 11 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
Brown (5-feet-10, 210 pounds), the No. 27 selection of the 2009 NFL Draft, played extensively in a reserve role last season, starting one game and playing in 11 while missing five because of injuries.
And at times, Brown showed potential as a big-play running back.
Brown, college football's lone 2,000-yard rusher as a junior at the University of Connecticut in 2008, rushed for 281 yards on 78 carries last season, scoring three touchdowns. His touchdowns included a critical, fourth-quarter, tackle-breaking, 15-yard touchdown in a 27-23 Week 2 prime-time victory over Miami.
Brown rushed four times for 26 yards that night, and also had a 72-yard pass reception the following week at Arizona and 45-yard run in a Game 6 victory at St. Louis.
But Brown sustained a shoulder injury against St. Louis that kept him out the next two games, and he also missed three games later in the season. He returned for the Colts' post-season run to Super Bowl XLIV, and recently called his rookie season very much one of "ups and downs."
"You're going through the whole gamut, per se – the preseason games, the regular season and making it all the way to the Super Bowl," Brown said. "Doing that in your rookie year, like I said, 'There were a lot of ups and downs,' but you learn from it and you build on it. Our goal is to get back there (to the Super Bowl), and hopefully win it this year. We're setting the bar pretty high.
"Everybody's working hard and right now, we're just taking it one day at a time."
Brown said his goal for the off-season is simple:
To improve not just as a runner, but as an all-around back.
He said he has spent the early part of the off-season studying film of himself from last season, and OTAs are the time to improve on what he saw.
"Everything, from running the ball, to pass protection, to catching the ball," Brown said. "I can improve on a lot of things. That's what I'm doing, just watching what I did wrong, making note of it and going out and working every day."
Brown, who had a reputation for being a focused worker in college, said such an approach is far from unique in the NFL, and particularly around the Colts.
"I don't mind it, but with guys like (Colts quarterback) Peyton (Manning) and (tight end) Dallas (Clark), they're hard workers, too," Brown said. "It makes it fun and it makes it contagious. It makes everybody work hard and makes everybody that much better. It makes us a better team, so who wouldn't want to work hard?
"It's a credit to our guys and our coaching staff that everybody wants to be out there, working hard. You build camaraderie during this time and it's fun to see everybody."
Colts coaches and front office personnel often say a player makes his biggest jump in the NFL between his rookie and second season, and many Colts players have made such jumps. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon, after playing sparingly as a rookie in 2008, played a key role throughout last season. Defensive players such as Clint Session, Melvin Bullitt and Robert Mathis have made similar improvements.
Brown said considering how fast the game seems for a rookie, it's easy to see how improvement could be made in a player's second season.
"Not only my position, but every position – just being out there," Brown said. "I remember last year, I was so nervous being out there. Things are flying around, but now, everything is calming down and I'm taking it all in stride.
"Just being out there, you're more relaxed. You know what to expect. Last year, I was nervous. You don't know what to expect. Every day, you're learning something new. I'm still learning newer things, but I know what to expect at the end of the day."
What Brown said he expects now is to get better, and be a more complete back than last season, and while he said that means improving on an overall basis, he's mostly just happy to not be the brand-new guy anymore.
"It's good to be out there without the name on your helmet," Brown said, referring to the practice of writing rookies' last names on a piece of tape affixed to the front of helmets in off-season practices. "You're not a rookie anymore, so you know what to expect. You just get out there, and shake off the cobwebs.
"You just want to build on your weaknesses, make them that much stronger. You just have to keep working hard. Everybody's working hard, so it's a great opunity right now."