“Is it true?” the Colts head coach said with a smile. “Did we sign a running back today?”
Finally, the answer was yes.
Until Tuesday, the Colts’ commitment to upgrading the running game had been almost entirely verbal. We heard the mantra time and again: run the ball, stop the run.
After investing heavily and repeatedly in players built to stop the run, the Colts ticked the final box on their checklist of major needs by adding veteran Ahmad Bradshaw to the roster.
At age 27, Bradshaw has six seasons of experience with the Giants and is coming off a year in which he rushed for 1,015 yards and a 4.6 per-carry average despite dealing with a foot injury that caused him to miss two games. He also caught 23 passes, his fewest in three seasons but still more than any back on the Colts’ roster.
Assuming he is fully healthy, Bradshaw would vault ahead of Vick Ballard and Donald Brown on the depth chart, though the Colts have plans to use at least two, if not all three, with some regularity.
“Any time you can add a guy that’s got Super Bowl rings, understands what it takes, has that mindset, put another pro in that locker room, another mentor, I mean the guy’s a best, he’s a warrior,” Pagano said. “I was at Baltimore and we played them I don’t know how many years ago and I saw him cut through our defense for a 77-yard run and that doesn’t happen very often to the Ravens.”
It didn’t happen at all for the Colts last season, and that’s just one of the many reasons Bradshaw is a perfect fit.
>> The Colts were the only team in the NFL without a run of at least 30 yards last season and had just five of 20 yards or more; Bradshaw nearly doubled that total with four;
>> The Colts had no one among the top 20 in the AFC in third-and-one rushing; Bradshaw ranked sixth in the NFC and 12th in the league with nine conversions on 11 attempts, a percentage of .818;
>> Though just how heavy a load Bradshaw will carry remains to be seen, he has proven more than capable of being the lead back, averaging 6.2 yards per carry on attempts 21 through 30 last season, compared to 4.2 on his first 10 attempts per game;
>> Bradshaw averaged 4.8 yards per carry on turf, compared to 4.0 on grass (welcome to Lucas Oil Stadium);
>> The Colts haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2007; Bradshaw has topped 1,000 yards twice in the last three years.
The Giants released him because of his salary ($4 million) and cap hit ($5.25 million), as well as concerns about his foot. The Colts scooped him up for the relative bargain of a reported $1.1 million base, with a $250,000 signing bonus and a $650,000 roster bonus, pro-rated on a per-game basis.
“He’s a between-the-tackles guy, he can bounce it outside, he can be a short-yardage back, he’s strong as heck, a downhill guy,” Pagano said. “Shoot, I think he’s returned a kick for a touchdown in years past. So this guy will carve himself out a role and a niche on our football team, I’m sure.”
Bradshaw had a third foot surgery in January, this time to insert a longer screw to reinforce an old fracture that first happened in 2009. Though he will join the Colts Wednesday, he very likely will be wearing a protective boot in order to reinforce the message that he will be given whatever time is necessary to fully complete rehab.
Neither the Colts nor Bradshaw expressed any doubt he would be fully ready for the start of training camp in late July.
“With me, there’s no concern,” Bradshaw said. “I’ll be ready to go.”
“He’s trending in the right direction,” Pagano said. “If you see him walking around here in a boot it’s because I told (trainer) Dave Hammer to put him in a boot and rest him, err on the side of caution like we always do. There’s no need to rush him.”
This will be a critical year for Bradshaw’s future, and the one-year contract enhances his sense of urgency to show that he not only is a reliable, productive back, but one with several good years remaining.
“I’ve proved my point to the world my whole career,” Bradshaw said. “At 27, I feel great. After the surgery that I had in January, I feel even younger. I can’t wait to prove myself and prove to everybody else that I can be a dominant back in this league.”
He doesn’t need to be dominant, he just needs to be good. That alone would represent a giant step forward for a Colts running game that has been too long dormant.