By Vincent Landolfi, Jr.
Photos courtesy Matt Bowen
A new era dawned in Indianapolis last week with the start of the Colts 2012 training camp held at Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana. For the Hoosier faithful all across the state, the day had finally arrived when they would get to see, in action, their new general manager, head coach, and quarterback, who happened to be this year’s #1 overall pick in the NFL draft. With so much excitement in the air, you would really have to be paying attention to notice the running back now at the top of the team’s depth chart.
Donald Brown (RBC Class of 2005) is occupying that spot right now, and given the amount of effort and level of commitment it took to get there, he might be doing so until it is pried from his old, retired hands. And, per usual, the sincerity and humility that are a part of the Colt’s 2007 first-round pick’s persona is evident when he speaks from the heart.
“It doesn’t matter where I am on the depth chart. Always prepare like you’re the starter, and whatever opportunity comes – make the most of it. I’m very excited about this year.” Brown told me, standing in the end zone after coming off A.U.’s turf game field at the conclusion of the first morning’s walk through practice. “I am prepared for any possible situation for this season whether it’s getting a majority of carries or on special teams, whatever it may be I’ve prepared for it and I’m ready for it.” Many people agree. And some, like season-ticket holder, and Donald Brown fan James Stoots, from Plainfield, IN, think he is “set for a breakout year.”
One reason is because preparation has been a long suit in Mr. Brown’s repertoire going all the way back to his days as a schoolboy standout on the fields of the Shore Conference.
“He was the hardest worker I’ve ever seen,” said New England Patriots scout Frank Edgerly, then the head football coach at Red Bank Catholic H.S., Brown’s alma mater. “He out-lifted the strong guys, outran the speed guys, and was the first one ready to go again.”
Fast forward to the summer of 2012, where we find the former UConn star, not visiting his family and the beaches of his boyhood home at the Jersey Shore, but two states down in Terrapin country. Eschewing vacation, Donald decided to spend several weeks working out and honing his skills at The University of Maryland, where former Huskies Head Coach Randy Edsall is now the head coach. “Physically I feel like this is the best shape I’ve been in, in a very long time”, Brown said, as a result of his off-season activities.
Along with the Colts new regime, come many new players, a new system, and new playbook with new terminology. In order to have a successful season, general manager Ryan Grigson, head coach Chuck Pagano, and the entire staff must meld all of these components into one, harmonious unit. I asked Brown about the progress of this process.
“At the end of the day, every playbook’s the same; it’s the terminology that’s different. But this is probably the fifth time we’re hearing it with O.T.A.s (organized team activities) and mini-camps so we are a lot more comfortable with it right now.
“It’s definitely coming together,” he added. “We’ve been together since early April so guys are getting comfortable with one another and with the system.”
When asked about some particular plays offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, has installed in order to ‘take advantage of his strengths, a smile came over #31’s face.
“I love the new system – some downhill, smash-mouth running; it’s what I’m comfortable with. I am excited to get running.”
Of course, on the first day of camp, the stallion’s share of the media and fan attention was directed at one of the new faces in Indianapolis, quarterback Andrew Luck. While the powers-that-be are trying to low-ball high expectations from being thrust upon the rookie’s shoulders, the fans’ excitement seemed to have spilled over onto the field, after his 27 for 32 passing performance on day one.
“He seems like a seasoned vet,” said Brown, when the fourth-year back was asked about his new signal caller. “He’s a student of the game, and really picking up the offense. He’s very cool, calm, and collected; a great leader. He’s done a phenomenal job, and he’s only going to get better.”
In the midst of all this newness, however, there remains a holdover from the previous Colts staff. Not so coincidentally, he is the man who had a lot to do with the resurgence of Indy’s running game at the end of last season, and Donald Brown’s career in the process.
“I’m very excited and glad to have Dave back,” said Brown, of running backs coach David Walker, the former Syracuse Orangemen two-time All-Big East runner. “He’s a phenomenal guy, and coach and he’s really helped elevate my game. I’m just very, very happy to have him back.”
But even a new system, excellent coach, and what Brown calls “a great backfield, with guys that bring many different things to the table” (including second-year Syracuse alum Delone Carter, rookie Darren Evans, from Virginia Tech, and free-agent Mewelde Moore, to name a few), Brown knows that holes need to be opened in order for a running game to succeed. Fear not. Grigson and Pagano have anticipated and addressed this crucial team component in the draft and off-season signings.
“We have some big guys up front,” Brown told the media throng, alluding to the size of lineman such as 6’ 3” 300 lb. center Samson Satele, acquired from the Oakland Raiders, rookie Steven Baker at 6’ 8” 301 lb., and 6’ 7” 315 lb. tackle Anthony Castonzo. “There are some horses up there.”
So the horses are in the barn, and the table is set for the Colts’ upcoming 2012 NFL season. To what degree a rookie quarterback, managing an explosive passing game, and newly recharged running game, along with an attacking style defense, under a new regime, solidifies is anyone’s guess. Are there specific goals in place for this team to achieve?
“Just to get better everyday,” said Brown. “That’s our goal, that’s our mindset, every meeting, every walk-through, every practice. Just get better and take it one day at a time.”
It is not surprising, for those of us who have had the opportunity to listen to Donald Brown answer questions in the past, and hear him take the humble, pragmatic approach in his replies. Do not for one-minute make the mistake of thinking humble and desire are mutually exclusive. Lesser men would be on to their next career by now if presented with some of the obstacles Brown has encountered in his NFL life, including injuries to his ankle, shoulder, and torso, and a lack of playing time at the beginning of last season.
During some of these more difficult times, some of the sentiment surrounding Brown was that even if he never plays another down in the NFL, he owes no one anything. Here is a professional athlete who stands at only 5’ 10”, but is a legend at his high school and in his community, led the nation in rushing in college while earning his degree on a full scholarship, and has already made a very good living while providing us with some extremely memorable moments in the National Football League. But that scenario does not speak to the heart of Donald Brown. Look up the meaning of the name Donald, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. You see, right now he is occupying the spot at the top of the depth chart, and I think he likes the view from there.