Bryce Brown watched football on television last Thanksgiving, wondering if he would ever get a chance to play in the NFL after a brief, checkered collegiate career.
Now the rookie running back is preparing for his first start since 2008. In front of a national TV audience, no less.
With LeSean McCoy sidelined by a concussion, Brown is expected to get a bulk of the carries when the Philadelphia Eagles host Carolina on Monday night. He's come a long way since leaving two schools in a three-year span.
"It's exciting," Brown said Wednesday. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity. I'm grateful for it. I've had a tough road. Mentally, I have to get prepared. Obviously, I'll get more carries but I prepare the same way every week."
Brown was the nation's highest-ranked running back coming out of Wichita East High School in 2008. He chose Tennessee and had an impressive freshman year backing up Montario Hardesty. Brown rushed for 104 yards in his first game with the Vols and finished with 460 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 101 carries.
When coach Lane Kiffin left for USC after that year, Brown transferred to Kansas State. He sat out 2010, and carried the ball only three more times in college. Brown suffered an ankle injury early in the season and played in just one game before leaving the program.
Brown's decision seemingly crippled his chance of getting drafted. But the Eagles gambled with their seventh-round pick and he's made the most of it.
"He's a smart kid and he's a good player, so that's impressive," coach Andy Reid said. "It looks like he's more comfortable in the offense every week. He's doing a nice job in pass protection. That wasn't his thing when he first came here. He's doing better there. Better recognition of the blitzes. Then, he's a patient runner, and then when he goes, he goes and he goes hard. He's a big body. A physical player."
Brown has shown flashes of his potential in a limited role behind McCoy. He has 141 yards rushing and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. His 40-yard run in a loss to New Orleans on Nov. 5 is the longest for Philadelphia this season.
"I haven't had more than five carries in a game, so it's hard to get in a rhythm," Brown said. "Rhythm comes when you get more carries. The more you're on the field, the more you get a feel for the game."
The 21-year-old Brown, uncomfortable speaking to the media as a collegian, has been quite the opposite as a pro. Wearing silver-framed glasses, he stood at his locker and spoke to reporters for nearly 30 minutes before practice.
"I want to do anything I can to help my team win," Brown said. "As for being a starter, I like my role here and I like Philly."
The 6-foot, 220-pound Brown has speed and strength. He ran a 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at his pro day last year, but wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine.
All that's in the past now. He's got his chance on a big stage.
"I'm thankful," Brown said. "Opportunity comes and now I have to take advantage of it."
Brown was used on kick returns for the first time in last week's 31-6 loss to Washington. He averaged 22 yards on three returns. Brown volunteered to stay on the return unit this week, but won't be used there because of the injury to McCoy.
The Eagles (3-7) have lost six straight games and also could be without quarterback Michael Vick against the Panthers (2-8). Vick also has a concussion that forced him to miss the loss to the Redskins.
Notes: Along with Vick and McCoy, WR Jason Avant (hamstring) and DT Cullen Jenkins (foot, ankle) didn't practice. ... LT Jason Peters, out since the start of the season while recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon, was on the sideline, but isn't ready to participate yet. ... Jake Scott will remain the starter at right guard over 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins. Scott was in the lineup just six days after he signed last week.
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