Life can’t be easy for Carlos Brown right now. While playing time is scarce for any back not named Sam McGuffie right now, and no one on Michigan’s team can be happy with the first three weeks of the season, I have to believe the 2008 season has been far more grating on Brown than any other upperclassman on Michigan’s roster. This season was supposed to be his shot. His team. His backfield. A season after racking up 75 carries, two 100 yard games, and 382 yards, Brown sits at the bottom of Michigan’s tailback committee with 2 carries in three games, and a grand total of four yards. This isn’t how it was supposed to be for Brown. This isn’t what he signed on for. And it’s certainly not what he deserves.
For some reason Carlos Brown has always been one of my favorite players. Even while Hart was carrying the load, brashly predicting success, and leading the Michigan for four years, Brown, for some reason, captured my attention. Maybe it was the fact he was everything that Hart wasn’t. He wasn’t a 5 foot nothing superhero. He didn’t cut on a dime, pick up the blitzer, or scream at the top of his lungs. Brown was fragile, uncertain, and seemingly lost in a world he thought he could handle before he set foot in it.
I remember his commitment to Michigan because it was, bluntly, shocking. He was a highly touted Georgia running back who could’ve gone anywhere, especially a place without a sophomore incumbent in his way. He was confident, polite, and southern in those endearing ways rather than in the stereotypical strokes that we Yankees so often paint with. He was different than any back Michigan had played or recruited in 10 years. And most importantly, good lord was he fast.
During his first spring practice Brown was electrifying, tearing off one long touchdown run after another. He was going to be the lightning to Hart’s thunder, to be that change of pace, home run hitter Michigan had lacked for so long. If you were a Michigan fan, you were excited about this kid.
But life simply doesn’t work that way. After starring in Spring Practice Brown was hit with a string of injuries that have never seemed to go away. Little injuries. Injuries you can play through because your legs still work in perfect form, but injuries that cripple your effectiveness as a running back. Hand and finger injuries. Shoulder injuries. Injuries that only the coaching staff seems to know about.Injuries that let you practice but embarrass you when you play.
Over the course of Brown’s short career at Michigan he has constantly been put in a position to fail. Called on to return kick-offs or take snaps when he can barely grip a glass of milk let alone a football. Called on to play cornerback because he’s "Not shifty enough" to be in the zone running game but too fast not to use somewhere. Called on to back up guys he’s just as good as.
The hand Brown’s been dealt is both a dream and a nightmare at once. He is an incredibly gifted athlete who is receiving a world class education at one of the finest collegiate institutions in the world. He gets to play college football for Michigan. He has the potential at 6’0" 215 to play football for a living and not just as a hobby. But in spite of that he rarely sees the field. His body betrays him seemingly every six months. He backs up slower backs that are even worse than he is at holding onto the ball. Despite all that talent, that drive, that desire, he watches his friends on Saturday rather than playing with them.
Brown deserves better. Say what you will about Michigan’s win over Illinois last year, but Carlos Brown is the reason Michigan won. Taking the ball 25 times, Brown rushed for 113 yards as Michigan’s primary tailback, picking up tough yards when it mattered and seemingly willing Michigan to a win despite the chaos surrounding his team. He followed it up the next week with a 132 yard day against a horrible Minnesota team. But that would basically be it for Brown. He saw 11 carries over the next two games and didn’t see the field in Michigan’s finales against OSU and Florida.
And now, despite the regime changes, the fact he is better suited to this offense than the one that preceded it, despite the fact that he’s kept his nose clean, despite the fact he’s got as good a chance of holding onto the ball as the next guy in front of him, he’s back where he was at the end of last season. Nursing injuries. Wondering why the hell he chose Michigan over schools that might actually play him. Wondering why he didn’t pull the plug on this experiment a season prior. Wondering when, if ever, he’ll see the field again.
Unfortunately there aren’t easy answers to those questions. The man in charge doesn’t seem to have them, other than to say "we’re aware of the situation." And so a junior running back who still harbors dreams of the NFL must wait for the answers to come to him. Wait and hope that the pressure from sources outside Schembechler Hall help to convince Coach Rod to give the kid a chance. To let him touch the ball in a formation other than "Obvious QB Draw." To let him prove himself all over again.
Carlos Brown deserves better. But life is not fair and somehow I think he’s aware of that.