Bill Polian: Donald Brown, Patriots a perfect match
FOXBORO — Over the last 20 years or so, few can boast the consistent, high quality evaluation resume of Bill Polian, the former president and vice chairman of the Indianapolis Colts.
So when the Hall of Famer — an architect of eight division titles, 11 playoff appearances, two AFC championships and a Super Bowl XLI crown with the Colts, plus an NFC title game appearance with the Carolina Panthers and three straight Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills — offers an opinion on one of his former draft picks, you listen.
Right landing spot
Polian drafted Patriots running back Donald Brown 27th overall in 2009, and he believes strongly that not only does his former player still have enough physically to be effective, but that Patriots coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels run the right scheme fit for Brown’s skill set.
In Polian’s opinion, Brown could not have landed in a better spot when he signed with the Patriots in March as an unrestricted free agent after an unremarkable two-year stint with the Chargers.
“The Pats mix and match perfectly for the skills of the players,” Polian, now an analyst for ESPN, told the Herald last week. “They match the offense to the skills of the players and vice versa. Yeah, he’s going to play a specified role and I’m sure he’ll do it well.”
That specified role, according to Polian, is what the Colts were looking for when they selected him.
“Well, we thought he had great acceleration in the hole,” Polian said when asked about his assessment of Brown when he was coming out of UConn. “We thought he had great ability to get to the edge. We thought he was perfect for the stretch play, which was a staple of our offense. He was great out of the backfield catching the ball and he did, and still does, have all-the-way speed when he catches the ball. He was more than a willing blocker and turned out to be quite good at it, actually.
“(Former Colts running back) Joseph Addai had a bad knee and his career was kind of winding down. We needed a running back and thought that Donald fit perfectly and that’s what turned out to be.”
At a loss in San Diego
While Brown has at times been solid as he heads into his eighth NFL season, his best single-season rushing total was the 645 yards (4.8 average yards per carry) he logged in 2011. He had just 223 and 229 rushing yards with the Chargers in 2014 and ’15, respectively. For a former first-round pick, those numbers are underwhelming.
However, Polian said there are good reasons for that lack of production. In Indianapolis, the main problem was the Colts phasing out the stretch concepts Brown excelled at in favor of a more power-based attack when coach Chuck Pagano took over in 2012.
“We did not run power, and our offense was not based on a power concept,” Polian said. “By that, I mean both running behind your pads inside and knocking over linebackers and running off a double team at the point of attack. We didn’t do that (in 2009 when Brown joined the Colts).
“I realize that the Pats do, but they do it with (LeGarrette) Blount, preferably. They fit the personnel for what they want to do perfect, best of anyone in the league. So Donald, that’s not Donald’s strength. He’d probably be the first to tell you that. Even though he tries very hard, it just doesn’t showcase his talents to the best extent.”
Injuries have played a role, as well. Brown battled with concussion and ankle problems, and his supporting cast in San Diego wasn’t of much help, either.
“Their situation was largely due to injury,” Polian said of the Chargers. “They were decimated by injury on the offensive line.”
‘He fits perfectly’
Both the positive and negative aspects of Brown’s career arc have emerged at this early point in training camp.
In the first two days of padded practice, Brown displayed that impressive acceleration Polian saw when he first selected him. However, he has missed the last few practices with an unspecified injury.
He steps into a running back competition that features Blount, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden, James White, Tyler Gaffney, Joey Iosefa and rookie free agent D.J. Foster. The first four were the primary active roster members last year, while Foster has yet to show much but is expected to be one of the main challengers for a spot.
In other words, Brown is not guaranteed a position on the team by the time the Pats take the field against the Cardinals in Week 1.
But Polian likes Brown’s chances, specifically because Belichick and McDaniels know what he does best.
“He’s a much better fit in the Patriots’ offense than he was in the new Colts offense,” Polian said. “He fits perfectly because so much of it is so similar to what we did in Indianapolis. He fits perfectly. That will utilize his skills to their best ability.”
On Wednesday, Belichick praised Brown’s intelligence and speed and noted, “he’s a pleasure to coach.”
In Polian’s eyes, the competition he faces to make the roster will have to step up its game to keep him off it.
“That’s a decision that the Pats coaches have to make and they’ll make it based on what they see in the practices in the preseason,” Polian said. “But I’ll tell you this: Donald Brown will give everyone a run for their money, that’s for sure. If he doesn’t make it, it won’t be because he didn’t work as hard as he could.
“In my way of thinking, if you had 53 Donald Browns on your team, you’d be a very happy person and win a lot of football games.”