INDIANAPOLIS – Donald Brown entered 2011 with a 3.8-yard career rushing average over his first two seasons.
Brown played in 2009 and 2010 in an offense that largely was pass-heavy. The pendulum began to swing the other way with four games left in the 2010 season. Indianapolis rushed at least 24 times in each game. It marked the only time in Brown's career where that had occurred.
The 2011 season saw Brown boast a 4.8 seasonal average by gaining 645 yards on 134 attempts. More importantly, the team topped a 4.0 seasonal average for the first time since 2006.
The improvement in the rushing attack in 2011 was impeded by the scoreboard. In struggling to a 2-14 record, Indianapolis had four games with first-half deficits of 20 or more points, while dropping 10 games by double digit totals. Equally troubling was an eight-game stretch where the Colts did not have a lead at any point in an outing.
Still, Brown thrived when called upon. After no attempts in the first four games, Brown had 10 attempts in seven outings and he topped the team in yards eight times. He averaged more than five yards per rush four times, including a 16-carry, 161-yard game versus Tennessee that included a late 80-yard scoring run to clinch a victory. It tied the longest run in franchise history.
"Donald showed last year that when he gets opportunities that he can be really good," said former Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who started the last five games in 2011. "He's a guy who gets better when he gets carries. He gets strong the more times he gets the ball. He works hard and is faster than people think. He made a big difference late in our Tennessee win with the long touchdown run. I have known him a long time, and I was pleased with how he did last year."
Brown did enjoy some high moments last year, but not enough to provide satisfaction.
"Obviously, we did not accomplish enough. It was a disappointing season on all ends. You learn from seasons like that. You don't want that to happen again," said Brown. "The NFL is a tough business. Nothing is guaranteed in this league, especially winning. There were a number of games last year when we had the lead and let it slip through our hands. We can't do that. We need to finish games, put whole games together, take one play at a time and play for 60 minutes."
Brown talked last season how the game has slowed for him a bit, and his maturation was evident in his burst.
"Donald really came into his talents last year. He displayed exactly what the team knew he had all along," said an observer of the team. "Everything came together for him. He showed his speed. He was able to find seams and he became more patient in terms of the running game. He also improved in his pass blocking, too. He became such a complete player. He ran well, and he can get better.
"Donald is more of a slashing type runner. When he sees a crack or a seam, he will get into it. He's not going to dance a lot. He has enough wiggle to make you miss. Speed is his strength, and he put it on display. I think Donald just keeps getting better. He's really finding his niche.
"It's a maturation process. He has gotten a better feel for what's required of him physically. He's gotten his body where it can handle the rigors of this league. You can see him growing and developing where he's running with a lot more confidence. He's more familiar with the offense. He's getting in position where he can use his speed more often than he did previously as well."
Going into his third year, Brown has observed successful habits of veterans around him, and he knows he is becoming one of the more senior players on the roster.
"I think you learn what works, what doesn't work. You look at guys in the locker room and see what they're doing," said Brown. "You see how they prepare and what they do to get themselves ready. Just seeing some true professionals of the game like Peyton (Manning), Jeff (Saturday) and Reggie (Wayne) preparing week in and week out really helps you.
"I'd like to (move more into a leadership role). I think that's part of the territory. The longer you're in the game, the more responsibility you have. It goes with the turf, and you embrace it. The longer you play, the more experienced you are. As a veteran, it's your job to instill that experience to some of the young guys."
One change Brown embraced last year was the addition of David Walker at running backs coach. Walker's addition was a good fit for Brown.
"We had a new running back coach in David Walker," said Brown. "He really helped my game. He helped my reads, where to put the ball and things of that nature. He's very knowledgeable. He was a running back himself. He played at Syracuse and was a great back.
"David is good at the game, and he's always trying to get better. He has really helped the entire running back room. He's just a very smart and knowledgeable guy."
Brown has met Chuck Pagano and came away with the feeling it will be fun to play under his new head coach's engaging nature.
"He is great guy. He's really charismatic," said Brown. "All the things you hear about him from his former players is that they love him and loved playing for him. I am really looking forward to playing for him. He is a relationship-type of head coach, and I think that's very important. You want to play for somebody who you have a relationship with. It makes the game that much more fun and enjoyable.
"There have been a lot of changes (since last season), and we're excited about the changes. I'm looking forward to next season. … We want to get that nasty taste out of our mouths from last year."
Joseph Addai was among a group of veteran players released by the club earlier this year. Rookie Delone Carter started three of 16 outings and showed promise by gaining 377 yards on 101 attempts. Hometown product Darren Evans has been signed since the season ended. Jerome Felton, an unrestricted free agent, and Ryan Mahaffey ended the season as fullbacks on the roster, while a third, Chris Gronkowski, was on injured reserve. It was the first time in years the club carried true fullbacks on the roster, and they assisted in the performance of the ground attack.