Meet the New Steeler: Brandon Brown-Dukes

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Erie Times-News/Jack Hanrahan photo

I’ve always felt that having a hyphen in your name makes you just that little bit more special, so rookie running back Brown-Dukes (hopefully soon to be known as BD, which is easier to type] is next up. (According to Jim Wexell, Mike Tomlin calls him “Mercyhurst.” I still prefer “BD”)

Like so many of the UFDAs, BD comes from a small college, but few of them have his distinction of coming from a Western PA college—Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA. Excuse me, Mercyhurst University. But that’s a rant for another day… He was a late signing, as the Steelers called him to fill a spot in the rookie mini-camp when it was already underway. When he talked to the Steelers, he was about to head to Rochester for a job with a tire distributor.*

What attracted the Steelers to BD? It wasn’t his size. He is listed at 5’8″, but measured 5’7 and 5/8″ at the California University of PA Pro Day. That’s even shorter than Dri Archer. It wasn’t his speed—he ran a 4.68 40. [Archer ran a 4.26.] But the Steelers apparently saw something which intrigued them, and brought him in for a look. They liked what they saw, because he’s on the 90-man training camp roster.

Jim Wexell of Scout.com spoke to the assistant coach, Tom Herman, who recruited BD to Mercyhurst, to try to find out what it was the Steelers might have seen.  Herman said:

He’s a 4.55-4.6 guy, not exceptionally fast but exceptionally quick. He’s a great person. He’s very football smart. He has good hands and he has great vision and he can really make the cuts. He can change direction pretty fast…He’s a special guy. That’s the one thing about a program like ours. The kids are football players but they’re also part of our family.

Wexell noted that BD seemed much quicker on the practice field than even his coach’s more generous assessment of his 40 time would indicate:

“Sometimes kids play faster when they’re around faster people,” Herman said. “He doesn’t time as fast maybe when you time him in the 40, but some people, when they’re in the game, you know how that goes. When they’re in the game they play as fast as they have to. So he’s faster with faster people chasing him. It really seems like he’s picked it up.

BD hulk-smashed the previous rushing record for Mercyhurst with a total of 3803 yards in his time at Mercyhurst, and was second with 34 rushing touchdowns. He was named to the PSAC West First Team four seasons in a row. Which is all great, but how (or does it) translate to the NFL? Well, it’s just “football in shorts,” but here’s what Wexell said a few weeks after rookie minicap, during OTAs:

200-pounder Brandon Brown-Dukes is providing the quickness and cut-on-a-dime ability the Steelers wanted so badly from Dri Archer.

BD grew up in Florida, but chose Erie despite having an offer as well from Mars Hill, the institution at which Johnny Maxey matriculated. (Like Maxey, BD graduated, with a degree in sports business management.) He said he thought going to a cold-weather school would provide a different experience. It’s good to know he’s used to it, because should he stick with the Steelers he’ll feel a lot of it, whether on the practice squad or the 53-man roster.

He’s clearly one to watch at training camp. In fact, I’m going to be wishing I had multiple sets of eyes, I can tell. I’ll do my best with the two I’ve got, and be putting up regular reports this year, as I plan to attend frequently. Here’s hoping I’ll have good news about a young man I think could easily become a camp darling.

*According to BD, the manager was just fine with it when he called to say he wouldn’t be coming, as he is a Steelers fan…

 

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