With all the hubbub about the new quarterback, it might surprise you to learn the Colts are committed to establishing a strong running game.
Just exactly who will make that happen, and how, remains to be seen.
For the first time in his career, Donald Brown entered training camp at the top of the depth chart at running back, a status earned with his career-best season in 2011 but the numbers — 645 yards, five touchdowns, a 4.8 average per carry — don’t bespeak a dominant, every-down player.
Neither does the depth chart.
Delone Carter, a fourth-round pick in 2011, hopes to have kicked the fumblitis that stained his otherwise respectable rookie season. Veteran Mewelde Moore brings experience with Bruce Arians’ system from Pittsburgh. And fifth-round pick Vick Ballard, a 5-10, 217-pounder from Mississippi State, has an intriguing combination of power and shiftiness.
Whoever gets the call, the demand will be the same:
“Physicality,” offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “We want to be able to run the football when we want to run the football. There aren’t any numbers — we’re going to run it 35 times, this and that. Every game dictates different numbers but when we want to run it we want to be able to run it and be physical and old-school football — double-team, kick out and hit it up in there.
“Now that we have Mewelde I feel very comfortable with our backs. Delone being out most of the spring I’m anxious to see him and Vick is getting better every day. I really like him. But Mo brings a veteran presence to the nickel part of the game, knowing our scheme, knowing our blitz pickups and everything and he’s a quality pro. And I really think we’re running the things that Donald ran in college that he liked so much so we’ll tailor it towards each guy. I really like our backs situation right now because there’s good competition in all phases.”
Arians prefers power to deception in his running game. Tight end Dwayne Allen, who lines up occasionally as a fullback, had the best description of the offensive coordinator’s approach.
“Coach Arians wants us to be a run-first football team,” Allen said. “It’s not outside running, it’s downright dirty and gritty and grimy running game.”
Through Brown is relatively small (5-10, 210), the philosophy suits his style. Brown is at his best when he can hit the line at full speed, when he can better use his momentum to turn the slimmest of gaps into a hole.
“Just downhill, smash-mouth running,” Brown said. “That’s what I’m comfortable with, that’s what I’m excited about and I love this system. I’m very comfortable with it and I’m excited to get running, especially with the big guys we have up front. There’s some horses up there. It’s very exciting for the backs. We have a great backfield right now, guys that bring many different things to the table, so it’s going to be a great year. We have many weapons on offense.”
Moore is the veteran of the group and can expect to see a lot of time as the third-down back not only because of his familiarity with Arians, but his receiving ability. In his final four seasons in Pittsburgh he had 98 receptions.
Carter rushed for 377 yards as a rookie but lost three fumbles, an uncharacteristic problem for a player known for being sure-handed throughout his career at Syracuse. He has the build (5-9, 238) and strength to fit nicely in a power running game and could open the season as the team’s short-yardage specialist.
“It’s a deep room with a lot of talent in there,” Carter said. “We’re just going out there and trying to iron this thing out.
“I don’t really focus on who they bring in. My focus is me and getting these plays down and learning this offense so I can put myself in the best position to start.”
Ballard has been impressive through the summer workouts and early in camp, prompting Arians to suggest his talent was reminiscent of a young Edgerrin James. For now, though, the rookie is focused on doing whatever is necessary just to make the roster, including special teams.
“I really don’t know my role right now,” he said. “I know if I make the team it helps to play special teams. If that is my role, I mean I’ll take it.”
With the preseason opener against the Rams in Lucas Oil Stadium 10 days away, Brown is the projected starter, which is to say the position is his to lose.
“It doesn’t matter where I am on the depth chart,” Brown said. “I prepare like I’m going to be the starter because you never know what situation you’re going to be put into. Always prepare like you’re the starter and whatever opportunity comes, make the most of it.”
It might be a reach to say this is Brown’s last chance to prove himself as a front-line running back, but not much. Whatever the opportunity, he intends to take it and run.
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