INDIANAPOLIS – For many Indianapolis Colts fans, Donald Brown has been an acquired taste. The good news is they're acquiring it.
To understand why Brown hasn't always been a fan favorite, you have to look back at the Colts' history at running back. Two of the backs during the previous era were Hall of Fame-caliber backs. Marshall Faulk is in the Hall. Edgerrin James has a shot at it. Those were spoilers. Fan spoilers. Faulk and James delivered not only yardage but highlight-film runs.
Joseph Addai, James' successor, was a good back, Peyton Manning loved his pass-protection skills and Addai formed a nice yin-and-yang combination with Dominique Rhodes in the Colts' only Super Bowl win.
In contrast, Brown has delivered some workmanlike runs, a couple home runs, and his share of lost-yardage or no-yardage plays.
Most considered this season as a make-or-break one.
It looks like he might just make it.
“I liked Donald coming out (of college),” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. “He's a hard, downhill runner. He has great speed. He's shown flashes of that speed for us, and I love speed. He's more than a professional. He's a top-notch pro. He's prepared every week. He prepares the young guys. He's an explosive player, and you can't have enough of those.”
Brown's return Sunday from a knee scope showed a back in full-sprint mode. He carried the bulk of the load in the Colts' game-winning overtime drive at Tennessee. He finished with 14 carries, 80 yards (5.7 per carry).
Brown's drive to reclaim his starting spot and remain the Colts' top back was evident. If he keeps it up, he might even win over some fans who haven't always thought he has performed at the level of a first-round pick.
It was fairly shocking that he could step back on the field and display the kind of burst he showed so soon after surgery.
Brown said he maintained a positive outlook during his brief rehabilitation process.
“You're frustrated, but you have to realize, 'I'm going to come back.' ” Brown said. “It could have been season-ending, but it wasn't. You worry about what you can control, and you make the most of it.”
If Brown can deliver consistently – and hit the occasional “home run” – the Colts have a chance to establish a potent running. Brown, Vick Ballard, Delone Carter and quarterback Andrew Luck combined for 171 yards against the Titans.
The ideal situation is that Brown presents defenses with speed and quickness, particularly on the edges. Ballard brings great burst. Carter brings the power. It's a potential mixture that could keep opposing defenses off balance.
Arians wasn't sure Wednesday whether Brown or Ballard would start in the backfield at home against the Miami Dolphins this Sunday. Apparently, he wants to wait and see how Brown's knee responds to the first week back to work. Ballard has started the last two weeks. However, Arians said Brown should not lose his starting spot due to injury.
Brown says he welcomes sharing the running load with Ballard and Carter if that's what the Colts want.
“With (Ballard) and Delone, anybody is capable of stepping up there and making a difference,” Brown said. “The more weapons we have, the better we can be on offense.”
In four of the five games Brown has played this season, he's broke at least one run of 14 or more yards. He's shown his speed, which is considerable, during those longer runs.
It's frustrating for fans to see Brown rush for no-gain or losses on times when he doesn't break through into the secondary. But he would argue those type of plays are inevitable in the NFL, and also set up the chances for bigger breakthroughs.
“The offensive line has done a great job with preparation,” Brown said. “Sometimes you get stopped for zero or a one-yard loss, but you have to stay confident. Eventually that will turn into a positive.”
Brown's play is turning more and more into a positive for the Colts. For a skeptical fan base, he might just be turning into the back they've been wanting.