COMMENTARY | Not since the days of Edgerrin James have the Indianapolis Colts had a running attack worth writing home about. With the arrival of new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, however, there may be a newfound focus on the ground game in Indy. Are the Colts equipped for the offensive shift?
Since 2008, the Colts have been dismal at picking up rushing yards. That year, they bottomed out at a mere 79.6 rushing yards per game, second-worst in the NFL. In 2009, their average of 80.9 yards per game on the ground was worst in the league.
Each year since 2008, Indianapolis has gradually improved its rushing yardage per game, but the Colts still ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in 2012 with 104.4 yards per game. Considering 15.9 of those yards per game were by the legs of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, and wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery and tight end Dwayne Allen chipped in some yardage of their own, the per-game average collected by running backs drops to around 86 yards.
While it's nice to have a mobile quarterback in Luck after years of watching Peyton Manning run like a wounded giraffe and Curtis Painter ... well ... playing like Curtis Painter, I can't say that I'm terribly thrilled when I see the crown jewel of the franchise running down the field, exposing himself to injury.
Colts fans are anxious to see for themselves what kind of offense Hamilton will orchestrate, although his "No Coast Offense" figures to feature more of the running game that hasn't been seen in Indianapolis for years.
"If we have success running the football, if we don't get behind, that takes pressure off of everybody," head coach Chuck Pagano told Paul Kuharsky of ESPN recently. "Certainly we want to have balance."
Pagano feels like the team has a workhorse-in-the-making with the fifth-round draft pick out of Mississippi State. That may just be off-season coach-speak, but Ballard led the Colts in rushing in his rookie campaign with 814 yards last season while splitting carries with 2009 first-rounder Donald Brown, who has turned out to be a flop.
While Brown was nursing one of the many injuries that have plagued him over the course of his career, Ballard was churning out double-digit carries in 11 of the last 12 games of the season, even cresting the 100-yard mark for the first (and only) time in his career in a game against the Houston Texans.
In his four years with the Colts, Brown has never suited up for an entire 16-game season. The high ankle sprain that ended his 2012 campaign early was just the latest in a long string of injuries.
Even when healthy, though, Brown struggles on the field. He has shown a few flashes of brilliance here and there, but for the most part he has been slow and unimpressive with a maddening habit of running east-and-west, lacking the speed to get around the corner. He's been relegated to the role of a change-of-pace back, and the thought of relying on him if anything happens to Ballard is frightening.
Behind Brown on the depth chart is an even bigger dearth of talent.
Delone Carter can't stay healthy any more than Brown can. Davin Meggett spent his rookie year on the practice squads of the Texans and Colts. Kerwynn Williams, Dan Moore and Denodus O'Bryant are all rookies. Williams was a seventh-round pick in April. Moore and O'Bryant were signed as undrafted free agents.
And who's out there in free agency for the Colts to sign? Ahmad Bradshaw? Sure, he rushed for 1,015 yards last year, but he's had multiple surgeries on his feet. While medically cleared to play a few weeks ago, no one has signed him yet, including his two biggest suitors: the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. Big red flag there.
Michael Turner? Burned out. Cedric Benson? He's 30 years old and coming off a Lisfranc injury. Beanie Wells? That guy's injured more than Brown is. Brandon Jacobs? No thanks. He made quite the impression on Colts fans already and was a distraction with the San Francisco 49ers last year.
Beyond that, the well is pretty dry.
So in Ballard we trust here in Indianapolis. Please don't let anything bad happen to him.
The author is a resident of central Indiana and a longtime fan of the Colts.
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