By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — The running game has gotten an overhaul in the Indianapolis Colts offense heading into this season and those who play that position know they're in the spotlight.
The offensive line has been upgraded and that has moved up the expectations of yardage and points the Indy runners can produce in the upcoming games.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano knows there is more balance needed between passing and running and said, “Much more (balance) than last year, obviously. I know we got put in some situations where we got behind and we had to drop back 45, 50 times in some games just to come back and win those football games. But certainly we want balance. Again, they understand first day in pads today the mindset we’re trying to develop is run the ball and stop the run. Anytime you can have success, you can have a successful play, don’t take a negative play. If we can gain three, three-plus, four yards on first down, we get in second down. You get in third-and-two, three, four and five, you’re going to make a lot of first downs. You’re going to move the chains. You’re going to score a lot of points.”
The three front-runners to get playing time at running back are Vick Ballard, who was a rookie a year ago and started the final 12 games. He averaged 3.9 yards per tote.
Ballard likes the depth on the team and said, “It’s great. Obviously we’re not going to keep all the guys that are here, but going into the season, whoever we choose to keep, I feel like whoever is in the game could get the job done.”
Another member of that trio is Donald Brown, who played 10 games a season ago and was inactive for three games beginning Dec. 11. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry.
He understands the team has a lot of options at his position. “Just keep working hard," said Brown of his plan. "Everything will work itself out one way or another. And when your number’s called, make the most of it.”
The newcomer in the group is Ahmad Bradshaw, who is only new to the team but is entering his seventh season in the league. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry for the Giants before being waived in Feb.
Right now Bradshaw is not able to practice but is hoping things are moving toward that changing in the next few weeks.
“I feel great," he said. "They are just bringing me along slow. It’s a long season and I’m maybe two, maybe three weeks away. I feel great to go right now but we’ll see how the process goes. I love this game that much to just want to be out there right now but I am just trying to take care of my body and my career. Right now, it’s just patience is a virtue.”
Another change is that the Colts have talked about the fullback having a much greater presence in this year's offense.
“It doesn’t change at all," said Brashaw of adding the fullback. "It actually springs you to the next level most of the time with fullbacks and it also hides you back in the backfield.”
"Fullbacks obviously help open up the run game and that will be good for alleviating some pressure on our pass game," said Brown. "That’s what we need to do. We need to run the ball better and take some pressure off Andrew (quarterback Luck) and the wide receivers.”
Finally, the Colts spent a bit of money and effort improving the offensive line.
“(Ryan) Grigson went and got some great players up front," said Ballard. "They’re going to give Luck a lot more time to throw the ball, pretty sure they’re going to open up a lot more holes for me. It’s a plus all around the board.”
"We got some great free agents, guys with a lot of experience and it will be good," said Brown. "They’re big guys moving the piles and that’ll pay dividends in the fourth quarter when the big holes open up.”