Dominique Brown showed glimpses of his talent last season, when he made the move from quarterback to running back at Louisville.
It is a true testament to his talent, and toughness, that he finished second on the team with 533 yards rushing when you consider the following:
He was playing on pure athleticism, having only a rudimentary idea of how to play the running back position.
He absorbed hit after hit with quarterback shoulder pads, opting not to put on the bulkier running back pads for fear he would feel uncomfortable.
He specialized in the Wild Card formation, gaining tough yards even when teams expected to see him get the ball.
This spring, Brown is making the complete transition to running back, and will no longer specialize in the Wild Card. He, Corvin Lamb, Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry are all competing to win the starting running back job. But whether he is the starter or not, Brown is sure to see plenty of playing time because he is too good to keep on the bench.
There are a few things he has to work through. For one, this is the first spring in which Brown is taking hits. Quarterbacks always wear yellow non-contact jerseys during practice. Running backs do not. "Physically, it is hard," Brown said in a recent phone interview. "It took me a few practices to really get back into things." At least he does have running back pads now, complete with a back protector, so that has helped ease how much he feels each hit.
For another, Brown has to work on his technique and film study, so he can understand the blocking schemes in front of him and the defenses he will see as well.
"Coach [Dave] Borbely did a lot of Wild Card designed runs for me, telling me where to go, how the linemen are going to pull," Brown said. "Now with me being at running back, I have to know what the offensive line is doing, so I can't just play off one guy pulling. I have to read all four defensive linemen and all five offensive linemen and stuff like that. It's not a big adjustment, but it's more film time study for me, more time in the playbook, learning who's supposed to be on the mike (linebacker), sam (linebacker), and defensive linemen."
Brown already is a pretty big back, at 6-foot-2 and 227 pounds, so there are no immediate plans for him to bulk up. But he really wants to work on making defenders miss on the third level.
"I know I'm not going to be able to run other D-I athletes over, so learning how to add a little something else, more elusiveness in my repertoire," Brown said.
He also has worked with a yoga instructor to improve his flexibility and hips to be better able to make jump cuts. Watching film with former Louisville backs Bilal Powell and Victor Anderson also helped, and they gave him some tips on what makes a truly standout running back.
Their advice was the same.
"Just to listen to my coach, Kenny Carter, trust the scheme, study the playbook, know the run game like offensive line knows the run game and use it to my advantage," Brown said. "Know the ins and outs and do what I've been doing. I will be a better running back once I trust the scheme and know the scheme."