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Brown's Next Step Is Most Crucial

Of all of the young players who will feel the spotlight of this Monday night game against Carolina, none has a more improbable -- but maybe visionary -- path to the NFL than Bryce Brown, a seventh-round draft pick in April. Brown was the second of four running backs taken in that round.

One of those players, Edwin Baker, is a member of the Chargers' practice squad. Another, Michael Smith, has played in one game with Tampa Bay. Daryl Richardson has 451 yards and is averaging about 5 yards per carry in St. Louis,

And then there is Brown, who has 141 yards on the ground and is averaging 4.4 yards per rushing attempt. Brown moves into the starting role against Carolina with LeSean McCoy -- who has led all NFL backs in playing time the last two seasons -- sidelined because of a concussion.

Brown wasn't picked out of the blue, but the Eagles certainly did their homework on him. His high school greatness was legendary and if you go to YouTube and check out his high school highlights, you will be amazed.

Brown and Trent Richardson, now with the Cleveland Browns, were regarded as the best running backs in the country four seasons ago. Richardson chose the traditional route and went to Alabama and won a national championship and was the third pick in April's draft.

Brown went to Tennessee, gained more than 100 yards in his first collegiate game, had a strong freshman season and then transferred to Kansas State to be closer to his Wichita, KS home. He had three carries the rest of his college career.

So it's taken some time for Brown to shake the rust off of his game. He has had big moments -- the 40-yard run in New Orleans is the longest of the season for the Eagles -- and now Brown moves into another stratosphere. He will start on Monday night. He could even have 15 carries for the first time since his high school days.

Amazing story.

What kind of running back will he be, then?

Brown is a bigger running back than is McCoy, and he doesn't have the shake and bake that McCoy brings to the field. Brown is a one-cut, downhill running back who needs to be decisive and forceful and, yes, urgent when he runs the football.

Instead of having McCoy and Brown running the football, the Eagles have Brown and backup Dion Lewis against Carolina. At 221 pounds, Brown has the body to run through tackles and he has increased his tempo the last few weeks. He can't outrun defenders in the NFL unless he kicks into his highest gear.

In high school, he didn't need that. In college, he didn't play enough to really know that.

"This is a totally different world," said Brown, "These are the best football players in the world. I know that every player on defense can run and they are all physical. Great tacklers. I feel like I've made progress adjusting to the speed of the game and the tempo that the coaches want me to run with."

There is no way to know how long McCoy will be out of the lineup as he is in Phase 1 in his recovery from the concussion suffered late in last Sunday's loss to Washington. For this game, at least, Brown will get the majority of the carries and the receiving opportunities, although Lewis -- the forgotten man in the 2012 backfield after a promising rookie season -- is ready to re-establish himself in the offense.

Brown, though, is the X factor. He's a different runner than is McCoy, but maybe not a lot less explosive. How well Brown helps in pass protection and as a receiver could determine how much love he gets from coaching staff moving forward.

There are moments when Brown looks like he could develop into a high-end, starting-caliber running back. He's got the big-time speed, the burst, the power. There isn't a lot of wiggle in his game, not yet anyway, but Brown runs through the hole well and moves the chains.

With the Eagles going super young on offense -- Brown joins fellow draft class members Nick Foles and Dennis Kelly in the starting lineup, with rookie free agent Damaris Johnson heavily in the rotation at wide receiver and fullback Stanley Havili in his first year of action -- maybe the coaching staff pulls a surprise and goes with a run-heavy look against the Panthers.

If that's the case, Brown may get more work than he's had since he was a teenager, since he was unstoppable in high school, since the days when he was projected to be the superstar of superstars in the NFL.

He's not a star. Not yet, anyway. This game could be a springboard for Brown, though, as he gets the starting nod and the spotlight and more attention than he's had since his peach-fuzz days.

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