2013 Colts Training Camp Battles: The Running Backs

USA TODAY Sports

The Colts signed Ahmad Bradshaw as a free agent, but they still have second-year back Vick Ballard in the stable. Who wins the starting job? Here's a hint: It won't be Donald Brown.

I caught myself a few nights ago randomly watching some Joseph Addai highlights, back when he was sidestepping every defender in his path and stoning blitzing linebackers in pass protection. Man, it was fun to watch.

And while I was watching him, it hit me. When was the last time the Colts had a consistent and reliable rushing attack?

That doesn't necessarily mean when they had more rushing yards than their opponents or they rushed the ball at least 25 times a game. I wanted to know things like when they were efficient in short-yardage plays and how successful they were on first and second down at running the ball and putting the offense in a good position to pass.

The answer came back to Addai: probably 2007. That's when Football Outsiders ranked the Colts rushing offense as the sixth-best DVOA in the league.

It's been six years since then. And as we head into training camp this weekend, the Colts bring along one of the deepest running back corps they've had in that time.

Even though he's on the PUP list, Ahmad Bradshaw headlines that group as the best runner, receiver and blocker on the team, all rolled into one running back. Pro Football Focus gave him positive grades in all three categories last season, even ranking him as the best blocking running back in the league.

Of course, the concern with Bradshaw has always been his foot injuries. Based on a tweet of his from earlier this week, the latest surgery he had on his right foot in January could keep him out until the start of the season.

But even if Bradshaw doesn't end up participating in training camp or the preseason, I'm not too worried. Bradshaw has sat out countless practices over his six-year career, yet he only has missed 12 out of a possible 84 games and has never played in less than 12 games in a season.

It was pretty maddening for Giants fans to see Bradshaw on the injury list so often, only to suit up for almost every game. Now Colts fans have to deal with it. Fortunately, Bradshaw usually makes up for it on gameday.

Because I think Bradshaw is the best running back on the roster in every way, I don't buy that there is any competition with second-year back Vick Ballard for the starting job.

Ballard certainly proved he was tough and reliable last year. I liked his vision between the tackles and how often he pushed through contact for extra yards. But he doesn't have the special physical abilities that Bradshaw has. He's better suited to a role as a good backup, which he'll be once Bradshaw returns from his injury.

The real competition at running back comes at the third spot on the depth chart. Donald Brown, Delone Carter, Kerwynn Williams and Davin Meggett (sorta) are the choices there. I think the player that wins that spot will be the only one that isn't cut.

Since the Colts are moving to a West Coast offense this season (and please don't start arguing over the title of it in the comments), it's almost certain they'll carry a fullback through all 16 games. It's the reason they traded with the Eagles for Stanley Havili in March. He'll will contend with undrafted free agent Dan Moore for that job.

Conventional wisdom says adding one fullback to the roster leads to losing one running back. So if the Colts plan on going into the season with three running backs and one fullback, I think Williams will beat Brown, Carter and Meggett for the job.

A hole opened up at kick returner once the Colts lost Deji Karim in free agency. And unlike other players on the roster like Cassius Vaughn and Jabin Sambrano who could fill in at KR, Williams was actually drafted for that exact purpose.

In case you forgot GM Ryan Grigson's quote on Williams after the draft...

"Chuck and I both loved his tape. He's another guy that's fast, extremely quick and elusive. He brings a wrinkle to this team that could really help us and that's as a returner. Our special teams coaches had him rated as one of the best returners in this draft and that got our attention."

-Grigson

Unless Williams channels his inner Kenneth Moore during the preseason, I think he's here to stay.

Carter is somewhat useful in short-yardage situations and on special teams, but Havili should already fill both of those needs. There's not much of a chance that Carter is retained.

Brown doesn't have any special teams value, so he would be a wasted roster spot at the backend of the running back depth chart. However, the one scenario I could see him staying is if the coaching staff is still concerned about Bradshaw's health heading into the season. They won't turn over the running duties to just Ballard, Williams and Havili. Brown would likely be kept in that situation to keep Williams from having an immediate role on offense.

It's weird to talk so casually about cutting a former first-round pick, but Brown has had such a mediocre career with the Colts that it's easy to forget where he was drafted sometimes.

Even with Bradshaw as the starter, I expect the Colts to use a similar running back by committee philosophy to the one they used last year.

Ballard (211) and Brown (108) accounted for 319 of the team's 440 carries last season. The same kind of system should play out this year between Bradshaw and Ballard, with the former taking most of the carries. If the Colts really do incorporate a more balanced offense, both players should see a significant bump in carries to compared to their 2012 counterparts.

If it shapes up that way and there are no injuries throughout the season (HAHAHAHAHA), then I really believe the Colts will have a reliable rushing game. Finally.

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