Brown gets chance in Tennessee
With Eddie George headed to Dallas, Chris Brown will be on the spot Tennessee.
In the wake of the release of Eddie George this week, someone reminded heir apparent Chris Brown of the old adage "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown," and the young Tennessee Titans tailback quickly made it clear that, while he will miss his mentor, he welcomes the opportunity to step into the starting lineup and into the spotlight.
"Everybody gets their (opportunity) at some point," said Brown, the team's third-round draft choice a year ago. "My time is maybe coming a little bit sooner than some people thought that it would. The timetable has become a little more speeded up, no doubt about it. But that doesn't mean I'm not ready."
The Tennessee coaches certainly hope that's the case. While the Titans signed Antowain Smith on Thursday as a pretty nice veteran insurance, and already had the versatile Robert Holcombe on the roster, it is Brown who figures to get most of the workload. General manager Floyd Reese noted it "is going to take three men" to replace George. Left unsaid is that Brown, who struggled with a hamstring injury early in 2003 that severely curtailed some of the Titans staff's plans for him, has to emerge as a big-time player.
By the time the Titans report to camp, George will be a memory and Brown will have to be The Man.
Recent history notwithstanding, few franchises advance to the Super Bowl employing a tailback-by-committee approach. The last three NFL champions -- New England twice and, to a lesser extent, Tampa Bay -- were among the exceptions. But the track record is that it takes a feature back getting 300-plus carries and over 1,000 yards to contend for a berth in the title game.
With time running out on the current Tennessee roster, and future cap problems almost certain to result in some degree of makeover in 2005, Brown has to be productive. Losing George, who clearly allowed ego to cloud his judgement, means that Tennessee also lost the additional season of apprenticeship the team would have liked Brown to enjoy. That said, a few Titans veterans and assistants suggested to ESPN.com that accelerating the learning curve for Brown might not be such a bad thing.
Noted one offensive veteran: "There are still question marks about him and, hey, if you're a veteran on this team, you wanted Eddie here. But I think (Brown) has the right makeup to respond well to this chance. When you take a roadblock out of the way, it allows you to go faster, right? Chris knew this was coming at some point. This may be a little sooner than we thought, him included, but you make your bones in this league by stepping up when they call your number. I'm betting he'll be OK."
|“||Everybody gets their (opportunity) at some point. My time is maybe coming a little bit sooner than some people thought that it would. The timetable has become a little more speeded up, no doubt about it. But that doesn't mean I'm not ready. ”|
|— Chris Brown, Titans RB|
Brown logged just 56 carries in '03, for 221 yards, and zero touchdowns. Like George, he averaged less than four yards per attempt, and that's not the only pertinent comparison. The former Colorado standout has a similar build and running style, long and upright, a body that invites a lot of hits and just as many bruises. Brown should give Tennessee, at least a step more quickness to the hole, and improved long speed at the position.
It became privately chic, as George's numbers declined, to scrutinize the quality of the offensive line behind which he was running. But word around the NFL was that George was slow to the hole, that he had forfeited some burst, that injuries had finally caught up to one of the game's great iron man tailbacks. "It wasn't as if the holes weren't there," acknowledged one AFC defensive coordinator. "They just closed quicker on him, and that is a tell-tale sign."
Around the league, Brown is just one of several younger backs taking over for veterans who have moved on. But given the near-universal admiration George engendered in the NFL and the expectations that the Titans will again vie for a title, he will doubtless get closer scrutiny than Kevan Barlow (San Francisco) or Rudi Johnson (Cincinnati).
He is, Brown suggested, ready to be placed under the microscope.
"I can only be me and do the things I do well," Brown said. "You hear about all the comparisons to Eddie, but I'm not him. Those are some big shoes, for sure to step into. But my feeling is you don't try to fill the shoes. You just bring your own new pair."
Around the league
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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