Paul Domowitch: Price is right if Bryce is right

Posted: May 04, 2012

BRYCE BROWN is entering the NFL through a very different door than he did the college portion of his football career 3 years ago.

Back then, he was The Man. A USA Today and Parade All-American. The top-rated high school running back in the country. Every big-time program coveted him.

He was the marquee name on Lane Kiffin's first - and last - recruiting class at the University of Tennessee. Rushed for 460 yards as a true freshman behind starter Montario Hardesty, who would be taken in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Then everything went south.

He left Tennessee and transferred to Kansas State, which was closer to his Wichita home, and where his brother Arthur was playing. But he quit there as well last fall after just two games and three carries.

Last Saturday, the Eagles decided to take a what-the-hell flier on him in the seventh round of the draft, with the 229th overall pick. Brown was the 20th running back taken, and went 226 picks after the guy who was the second-rated high school running back in the country behind Brown 3 years ago, Trent Richardson.

"It's not the way that I expected to come into the league, that's for sure," Brown said in a phone interview Thursday. "But I'm just thankful to get an opportunity to play at the next level. I'm going to go in there and work hard and do whatever they want me to do."

Second chances are a lot easier to give to a guy in the seventh round than the first, where the financial risk is considerably higher. They're even easier to give after the draft, as evidenced by two of the undrafted free agents Howie Roseman and Andy Reid have brought to NovaCare Boys Town - Tulsa wide receiver/return man Damaris Johnson and Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris.

Johnson was suspended indefinitely and withdrew from Tulsa last fall after pleading guilty to felony embezzlement for paying just $14 for $2,600 of merchandise at a store where his girlfriend worked.

Harris was given his walking papers at Oregon after being cited for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, which came on the heels of being cited for driving 118 mph and driving with a suspended license.

Kids will be kids.

"We've talked about character this offseason and judging it and not making blanket statements about people and offenses," Roseman said. "What it boils down to with these guys is they did things that weren't right and they made mistakes that other college-age kids make.

"No one got hurt. It wasn't anything that we didn't think we could look our ownership in the eye and say we thought they would come in here and do something that would really harm the organization.

"We felt they deserved a second chance and they'll get one here. Of course, they're getting a second chance because they're incredibly talented. These are guys who, if they didn't have these issues, we think would have been drafted pretty high."

Brown didn't run afoul of the law. But it raises red flags when you skip out on not one, but two college programs. He was viewed as a problem child with a poor work ethic, and of course, a quitter. There also was the matter of the lack of game tape. It's hard to make any judgments on a guy who's carried the ball just three times in the last 2 years.

But when Kansas State coach Bill Snyder agreed to let the 6-foot, 220-pound Brown work out at the Wildcats Pro Day in March and he ran a 4.37 in the 40, well, several teams, including the Eagles, were intrigued.

The Eagles quizzed him on his decisions to leave Tennessee and Kansas State. They talked to Snyder and other K-State coaches about him. They gave Kiffin, Southern Cal's coach, a holler out in Hollywood. They scrutinized the tape from his Pro Day workout and reviewed every one of his 101 carries as a freshman at Tennessee. Heard enough and saw enough good things to take him in the seventh round.

"I spoke to a couple of teams who said, 'Why'd you have to draft him?' They thought they were going to be able to get him as a free agent," Roseman said. "But for a guy like that, if he went somewhere else and was really successful after we spent all the time with him, and the amount of talent that he has, and while that doesn't mean there's any guarantee that he's going to do any of those things, we would've regretted it.

"We just wanted to have him here and work with him and see what he does. It's not very often you get a 220-pound kid who can run as fast as he can and played as a true freshman at the University of Tennessee. When you speak to Lane Kiffin, he said this guy was going to be a star. We spent enough time with him to get his full story and to feel comfortable with that. We just want to see what he can do here."

The fact that Snyder, who is in his third decade as Kansas State's head coach, gave Brown permission to work out at his school's Pro Day even after he quit the team, carried a lot of weight with the Eagles and other NFL clubs.

Brown said he went to Snyder several months ago and apologized to him for quitting. "I just wanted to be honest with him and try to explain to him the issues I was dealing with and why I left," he said.

"I went to him before I even declared [for the draft] and asked him for his support and his advice on that. He not only let me work out at Pro Day, but he helped me find representation and things like that. He's been there every step of the way in helping me prepare for the next level."

Attempts to reach Snyder were unsuccessful.

Said Roseman: "Everything we know about Bill Snyder is that he's an incredible person. For him to feel comfortable enough to let Bryce come back meant that he felt Bryce was very sorry for the way he handled things. If he was comfortable with things, that meant a lot to us."

It's a new day for Bryce Brown. What happened at Tennessee and Kansas State don't matter any longer. The only thing that matters is what he does going forward.

His agent, Houston-based Eric Armstead, has told him stories of late-round or undrafted running backs such as Arian Foster and Priest Holmes who have gone on to successful NFL careers. He has told him about another one of his clients, Titans wide receiver Nate Washington, who was undrafted, who didn't get an invitation to the combine, and now is going into his eighth NFL season with two Super Bowl rings on his fingers from his time with the Steelers.

But he made it clear to Brown that if he wants to be the next rags-to-riches NFL story, he's going to have to work his tail off when he reports to the Eagles.

"Bryce is not going to let anybody down," Armstead said. "I've already given him his come-to-Jesus talk. He's made some changes in his life and is headed in the right direction. I think he's figured it out.

"I told him, 'When you get to Philadelphia, I want you to be the first one there [at the practice facility] and the last one to leave. You're a seventh-round pick. You still have to make a club. Just because you got drafted does not mean you're going to be on the 53-man roster or even the practice squad. You have to fight tooth and nail."


Contact Paul Domowitch at pdomo@aol.com. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

Follow him on Twitter @PDomo.

 

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