Inside Look: Indianapolis Colts Running Backs

Colts RB

Since Andrew Luck has been a rookie with the Indianapolis Colts, they struggled in the running game. Actually, the running game has been something that hasn’t looked good since the 2007 season when Joseph Addai was the last Colts rusher to go over a thousand yards (1,072). In the three seasons since the arrival of Andrew Luck the most yards gained on the ground was by Vick Ballard (814) it took him 211 attempts to get there for a underwhelming 3.9 yards per carry that was in 2012. It took Donald Brown and his 108 carries for 417 yards to break the thousand-yard barrier.

It is no wonder that the Colts that season were 14th in the league in rushing attempts and 22nd league in rushing yards with 1,671. Andrew Luck basically out rushed the entire team based on yard averages as he rushed 62 times for 255 yards (4.1) and five touchdowns. Luck’s touchdowns were the most rushing on the team as well, in fact, the team entirety had only one more rushing touchdown than Andrew Luck. It was a good thing because the Colts finished 18th in the league in total rushing touchdowns, without Luck most likely they would have finished last.

At the start of the 2013 season, it didn’t get much better for the running game. The duo of Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw rushed 20 times for 89 yards (4.9), not a bad average, but it was against a middle of the road defense in the Oakland Raiders. In week two the Colts faced off against the Miami Dolphins. The tandem of Bradshaw and Donald Brown carried the ball 22 times for just 95 yards for a pedestrian 4.3 yards per carry, and against a defense that finished 24th in rushing yards allowed that season.

Jim Irsay felt he needed to do something. He couldn’t rely on bench role player in Donald Brown, Ahmad Bradshaw was often injured, and they had lost Vick Ballard to injury. Irsay got the job done as he brought in a young rushing titan named Trent Richardson. The season previous he rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he was good at catching the ball out of the backfield (51-367-1).

Most of us know how that turned out. Richardson finished with just 157 carries for 458 yards (2.9) and three touchdowns. Donald Brown though had a good season as he rushed 102 times for 537 yards and six touchdowns, and by the end of the season took over starting duties from Richardson. In fact, Ahmad Bradshaw (41-186-2), Vick Ballard (13-63-0) and Tashard Choice (11-44-0) all had better-rushing averages. Indianapolis faltered as a rushing team once again. They finished 23rd in the league in attempts (409), and 20th in the league in yards (1743). They were solid though with rushing touchdowns as they finished 10th with 15 total. Andrew Luck again was second in touchdowns (4) and third in yards (377) on the team.

Last season saw a regression in both rushing yards and touchdowns even though they did a better job in taking more opportunities in rushing the ball. Indianapolis finished 17th in the league in rush attempts (415) but faltered to 22nd in the league in rushing yards (1612), and 14th in the league in touchdowns scored via the run only nine. Even more of a downer came with the failure of the Trent Richardson project. The Colts literally benched a healthy Richardson so that he would not have enough games played to warrant another contract and would become a free-agent.

Richardson only rushed for three touchdowns in the season to match 2013 totals. He did better in his yards per rush as he carried the rock 159 times for 519 yards (3.3) but it was clear there was no need for him in the Colts offense, especially when you’re getting beat by someone named Dan Herron. Bradshaw did his typical thing, as he rushed 90 times for 425 yards and two touchdowns, then got hurt for the rest of the season with a broken leg. That’s when Dan “boom” Herron took over. He rushed 78 times for 351 yards and one touchdown for a nice 4.5 yards per carry average.

Now it’s 2015, and the Colts are tired of seeing rushers either get hurt, under-perform, or just flat out suck. It got so bad for the Colts that by the playoff season starting in 2014 a running back named Zurlon Tipton was getting carries. I’m sorry, but anyone named Zurlon running the ball sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. It didn’t help but prove my point as Tipton only rushed for 18-yards on 10 carries. So, with the Indianapolis having a lot of breathing room on their salary books, they became aggressive in free-agency. They brought in stud, future hall-of-fame running back Frank “Tank” Gore, and they drafted Josh Robinson in the sixth round. They also have fillers such as Dan Herron, Zurlon Tipton, and Vick Ballard who will most likely miss the first six games due to his injured Achilles.

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The Colts will be looking heavily toward Gore to be the back they wanted out of Richardson, but Gore is not a sole workhorse and at age 32 he shouldn’t be. Frank Gore will be the type of back that you see on the field more than off. He still has good receiving skills, even though that hasn’t shown up in the stat sheet, he will also be the presence at the goal line. His blocking ability will also be beneficial and keep him on the field. Gore could finish the season with close to 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns.

When the Colts want to get more aggressive athletically look for Herron or Ballard when healthy. Both can take a swing pass and go along ways. Also rookie Josh Robinson will add to the mix and all three have maneuverability  to avoid the tackle. The Colts believe that Robinson is the future back, so if he can pick up the offense quickly and do a good job, look for Gore’s carries to diminish. Josh Robinson is a Frank Gore prototype that has better receiving skills.

Robinson

Gore has eight 1,000-yard seasons, after a decade in the league, and is pumping up the offensive line because of his talent. Tackle Anthony Castonzo had this to say about Frank Gore “Once he makes that cut, it’s downhill,” Castonzo says of Gore. “It’s like he’s literally running down a hill. You can tell he plays behind his pads. Even though we didn’t have pads on, you could tell he was running behind his shoulders and when he finds a hole, he hits it.

“He finds some holes that you don’t even think really exists and he just squirts out of there. I’m really excited to play with him.”
As for Robinson, Chuck Pagano already believe he can be an every-down type of runner. Even though he won’t get that chance this season with Frank Gore, he will definitely learn from the 2006 All-Pro and fine tune his skills. Josh Robinson is a type of back that runs low to the ground, breaks tackles, is consistent, and can function in the passing game. It seems as though the Colts actually may find their thousand-yard runner in Frank Gore, and have the depth behind him shall anything happen. I think this will effect Andrew Luck in the most positive light, as he may not feel the need to rush as many times as he had over the last three seasons. In fact on the battlefield of war, it’s always good to have a “Tank” on your side.

 

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Information used from NFL Football Reference