Colts RB Donald Brown making most of 2nd chance


Colts RB Donald Brown making most of 2nd chance

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) When Donald Brown was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 2009, the expectations soared.

The numbers did not.

Now, after three mostly disappointing seasons, Brown is getting a second chance to show the Colts what he can do for them - and he hasn't even let a midseason knee surgery get in the way.

``It's just a matter of staying positive, staying confident,'' Brown said Wednesday. ``It (the injury) was frustrating, but you have to realize that `I'm going to come back.' You know it could have been worse, it could have been season-ending, but it wasn't.''

Instead, the often overlooked and overshadowed Brown returned from the torn cartilage faster and stronger than anyone anticipated. The injury occurred Oct. 7 on a last-minute 2-point conversion run that helped the Colts (4-3) complete a stunning rally to beat Green Bay 30-27.

At the time, few even noticed as a wild celebration ensued and the postgame chatter focused almost exclusively on what the win meant for their missing coach, Chuck Pagano, who had just been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. Brown had surgery a couple of days later and missed the next two games.

When he returned Sunday at Tennessee, Brown looked as if he hadn't missed a play. He ran 14 times for 80 yards and was Indy's overtime workhorse, running the ball on six consecutive plays before giving way to Vick Ballard and Ballard's incredible 4 1/2-yard, twisting dive to win the game.

Those who know Brown best expected nothing less.

``I liked Donald coming out (of college),'' said interim coach and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who was with Pittsburgh then. ``I thought he was a hard downhill runner with great speed. He has shown flashes of that speed for us and I love speed. He is more than a professional, he's a top-notch pro. He's more than prepared every week. He prepares the young guys. He's a great leader in his room and he's an explosive player and you can't have enough of those.''

It's just taken Brown longer than expected to become the Colts' primary runner.

Part of the problem was bad luck.

After selecting Brown and essentially naming him the future successor to Joseph Addai, Brown fought a constant battle to stay healthy. He was inactive for five games as a rookie, three more in Year 2 and became a regular on Indy's weekly injury report even when he played.

All along, Brown's demeanor never changed. He kept watching film, trying to improve and picking up tidbits that he figured would be beneficial when his next opportunity came along.

That happened last season when Brown carried 134 times for 645 yards, scored five touchdowns and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. It was the first time Brown played in all 16 games and the numbers were career bests, though his success was again overlooked in the midst of a dismal 2-14 season that gave Indy the No. 1 draft pick.

But when Pagano and his new staff arrived in Indy, they wanted Brown to understand he'd be a key cog in this rebuilding project. At one point, Arians and Brown sat down to talk strategy and agreed to use some of the running plays that had made Brown such a productive runner at UConn.

``His system is very similar to what we ran in college, very familiar,'' Brown said, referring to Arians. ``We were on the same page.''

Initially, Brown and the Colts struggled.

After turning Andrew Luck's first preseason pass, a short screen into a long touchdown, Brown rushed for only 155 yards on his first 43 regular-season carries. In Week 5, following a bye, Brown ran 17 times for 84 yards against Green Bay and produced similar numbers against Tennessee last weekend.

What changed?

``Some of those things we don't do as much anymore because it didn't fit what our offensive line could do,'' Arians explained. ``He (Brown) has adapted to some of the things that they do well and as long as the line blocks well and the tight ends block well, he'll find a hole. He likes the power-gap stuff which he did a ton in college. We wanted to do that, we're still doing some of it, but not as much as we did in (training) camp.''

The other pieces are falling into place, too.

Since Brown got hurt, Ballard, a rookie, has carried 40 for 164 yards. Carter, too, has hung onto the ball and is averaging 3.6 yards per carry, and his late 1-yard scoring plunge last weekend wound up sending the game into overtime.

Suddenly, the usually pass-first Colts are averaging 119.8 yards rushing, and it's made a big difference.

``It's awesome,'' Andrew Luck said. ``When he (Arians) can keep calling runs and be confident in us, it's a lot of fun to be an offensive lineman.''

Or, in this case, it's awesome to be Brown.

``Whatever the situation is,'' he said, ``you just want to make the most of it.''

NOTES: Arians ruled two starters, TE Coby Fleener and CB Vontae Davis, out of Sunday's game. Fleener injured his left shoulder and Davis hurt his left knee in the win at Tennessee. ... At Wednesday's practice LB Pat Angerer wore a boot to protect the right foot he injured during training camp and LB Jerrell Freeman wore a boot on his left foot. Both are starters.


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The Redskins aren't big on analytics but the numbers are likely to influence their top draft pick

The Redskins aren't big on analytics but the numbers are likely to influence their top draft pick

There are always surprises in the NFL draft, but the 2018 edition may be the most unpredictable in years. There are a few factors at play here and they will affect who is available to the Redskins in the first round and who they end up drafting there. 

One factor is analytics. Not all teams have a big analytics department but all 32 are aware of the trends in the game. One is that teams no longer emphasize establishing the run early in games. Teams pass in the first quarter on about 57 percent of the snaps. That run-pass ratio is about the same as it is during the other three quarters. It’s still a passing league from the opening kickoff until the clock hits 0:00. 

So why, then, is Vita Vea, a pure nose tackle who likely will be of limited help against the pass, a possible top-10 pick who the Redskins reportedly would like to take at 13? 

The way it looks now, Vea is going to be one of the best available players with a significant drop off to any players associated with the passing game except quarterbacks—wide receiver, left tackle, edge rusher, and outside cornerback. 

The Redskins might rate Vea as more valuable than other teams because of how weak their rushing defense is. Teams ran at them on 47 percent of first-quarter plays, taking advantage of the weakness. This kept up through all four quarters; teams ran against the Redskins on 46 percent of the plays compared to 42 percent of all plays league-wide. Washington’s vulnerability against the rush may push Vea and probably Da’Ron Payne up on their draft boards even if they are of limited utility in the nickel defense. 

Here is one more example of the numbers and talent affecting this draft. Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick played a variety of positions in Alabama’s secondary. The consensus opinion is that his best NFL fit is slot corner. Traditionally, that is not a first-round position because it’s has been a role, a part-time position. 

But the view is shifting. Offenses take 62.6 percent of their snaps with three or more wide receivers on the field. That number only counts true wide receivers, so you can add a percentage point or two in for when a running back or tight end lines up out wide. As you would expect, a comparable number of defensive snaps (65.3%) are with five or more defensive backs on the field. The Redskins were in line with this. Slot corner Kendall Fuller played nearly 66 percent of the snaps last year. 

Since you will utilize your slot corner on nearly two-thirds of your plays, if you can get a good one with the 13th pick you shouldn’t hesitate just because of the old view of the position. When you add in the fact that Fitzpatrick can play safety and outside corner as well the Redskins could well pull the trigger if he’s still there. 

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin for Game 1

Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin for Game 1

As the Capitals and Penguins prepare to open their second-round series, significant injury news came out of Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Head coach Mike Sullivan informed the media that both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin would not play in Game 1 due to injuries.

The fact that Hagelin would not be traveling with the team suggests that he will miss Game 2 as well, but that has not been confirmed. That also means that Malkin is at least a possibility for Game 2.

Malkin did not play in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers after getting injured in a collision with Jakub Voracek in Game 5. Hagelin was injured in Game 6 on a big hit from Claude Giroux.

So when the series against Washington begins, Pittsburgh will be playing without two-thirds of its second line.

Malkin made a real push for the Hart Trophy this season with 42 goals and 98 points. He was a major factor in last season's Cup run with 28 points in 26 games and was gearing up for another big postseason with five points in his first five games.

But don't celebrate too much, Caps fans. It is not as if either loss will be crippling to Pittsburgh's offense.

Despite not having Malkin for the entire Game 6 and losing Hagelin midway through the second period, the Penguins still managed to put up eight goals on the Flyers in the series-clinching win.

Still, with scoring depth being such a strength for Pittsburgh, the Capitals need to take advantage. The Penguins will be without one of the best players in the NHL and that makes Game 1 crucial. Washington has gone down 0-2 in each of their past two playoff series including last year against Pittsburgh. They lost that series in seven games. They need to have a better start this year and with no Malkin or Hagelin for Game 1, this may be a must-win for the Caps.

Riley Sheahan and Dominik Simon skated with Phil Kessel on the second line at practice on Wednesday and it is a good bet that is how the second line will remain for Game 1. That way, Pittsburgh can keep its third line of Conor Sheary, Derick Brassard and Bryan Rust line together which has been very effective.