Often, it comes wrapped in gauze, ice or even plaster.
Either way it’s opportunity, and guys such as Vick Ballard must take it and run.
With both Mewelde Moore and Delone Carter sidelined by rib injuries sustained during the Colts’ 38-3 preseason victory over St. Louis this past Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium, Ballard figures to carry a much heavier load in the running game.
The fifth-round pick from Mississippi State is one of a handful of players stepping into larger roles as the Colts prepare for their first road game Sunday night in Pittsburgh (8 p.m., 1070 the Fan).
“They’re going to give all of us a fair shot at making a spot on the team,” Ballard said. “The only thing I can do is keep coming to work and trying to compete.”
With starting inside linebacker Pat Angerer out six weeks with a fracture in his foot, former Canadian Football League standout Jerrell Freeman is the likely starter, although former Eagle Moise Fokou could push for first-unit reps. With starting right guard Mike McGlynn out with a sprained right ankle, Seth Olsen is expected to move into the lineup.
Ballard was the Colts’ leading rusher against the Rams with 28 yards on six carries. Most of his work came on one series late in the first half. With the Colts backed up to their 2-yard line in the final two minutes, he carried three straight times for 27 yards to push the offense out of trouble.
“He’s getting better and better every day,” offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “First snap coming off the goal line, he busted it up in there and I think next time, he’ll take that one to the house. He was just happy to break out. I’ve been really impressed with him. I liked his pass protection too. I think he’s improving in that area. Sky’s the limit with that kid.”
Ballard racked up 2,157 yards and 29 touchdowns in two seasons at Mississippi State and finished his college career with a bang, gaining 180 yards and scoring on runs of 72 and 60 yards in a victory over Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl.
A compact 5-10, 217-pounder, Ballard got off to a rough start in the NFL scouting process when he stumbled and fell in his first attempt at the 40-yard dash, later keeping his feet to record a time of 4.65.
He nevertheless caught the eyes of the Colts’ scouting department and has been impressive almost from his first steps on the practice field. Arians called him an “all-around player” he reminds him “a lot of Edgerrin James and a lot of Isaac Redman” after OTAs at the team’s complex in June. Arians coached James during his previous tenure with the Colts, and Redman during his years in Pittsburgh.
Moore has been similarly impressed, calling Ballard “a very, very, very, good football player.”
“Young, got great potential to do a lot of things,” said the veteran back. “You saw him in situational football, backed up and getting the ball moved out of there, pushing out to the 20 in like two carries. A very good football player, understands football well. He can continue to work hard and continue to get better and see how everything goes.”
Though competing for playing time with the rookie, Moore has served as something of a mentor to the younger runner.
“You don’t want to send a guy out to play football with his hands tied behind his back,” Moore said. “You want to make sure he has some tools and that he’s able to go out there and protect himself and also protect everybody out there and also give him a chance to be successful. That’s how I was raised coming into football and that’s the same way I teach it. It’s a family atmosphere. I treat everybody like family.”
For Ballard, the challenge Sunday night will be to contain the urge to try too hard.
“I want to get the ball, I want to do good but at the same time I don’t want to play outside myself because that’s when you start making mistakes,” he said. “I think I’ll just try to do what got me here, basically.”
Which, basically, is just about everything Arians described when asked what he wants to see from the running backs as they jockey for playing time.
“Four yards or more,” he said. “Don’t be dancing around and trying to make long runs. Get positive yardage, block linebackers and safeties in pass protection and play all-around football. We have quality guys at the position and it’s high competition right now to get guys on the field. It’s going to make them all better.”
The Colts have added two new players to the mix, signing running back Alvester Alexander and linebacker Mike Balogun. Linebacker Scott Lutrus and cornerback Buddy Jackson were waived-injured, meaning if unclaimed they will revert to the Colts’ injured reserve list.
The 5-11, 204-pound Alexander went undrafted out of Wyoming and was with the Bears from April until being waived in mid-July.
Balogun had his senior season of eligibility at Oklahoma stripped by the NCAA for appearing in a semi-pro game after his 21st birthday. He has had brief stints with five teams, most recently Tampa Bay. His only two NFL appearances came with the Bills in 2010.