It has been a frustrating ride in the Pagano era watching the Colts try to force feed a run game with a roster that was ill suited to do so. We have had an interior OL that has consistently failed and have been dealt with poor play calling and a string of injuries on the O Line and at RB. That trend of being a poor running team seams to be trending the opposite way as of late and while we probably won't be a dominant team on the ground, there are some pretty decent reasons to be somewhat encouraged this year.
The first reason is Pep Hamilton. I was not a fan of his last year and really thought he was in over his head due to his stubbornness and refusal to adapt to the pro game. We fell behind in a lot of games and had to abandon the run game. As many have pointed out though, injuries forced him to adapt towards the end of the year and we were rewarded with some positive results. I'm hoping he learned enough last year to change his philosophy a bit this year. We have a great QB and a stable of talented WRs, so using the pass to set up the run more is what I am looking to see. I'm also hoping he uses more variety out of his formations this year (I'd still scrap the power formations 90% of the time). He's had a whole off season to digest last year and he is a very bright coach, so it's reasonable to expect quite a bit of progression out of him and that will help the offense as much as any addition or progression from a player.
The second reason I'm more optimistic this year is the line. Satele and McGlynn took one way tickets out of town and fans couldn't be happier. Khalid Holmes steps into the center role after a red shirt year and hopefully Thomas can stay healthy and build off what looked like a decent start to his Colts career. Thornton and Mewhort will likely battle for the RG spot, but I'd bet on Thornton early on as his progression to a second year player should give him an edge. The interior of the line was so bad last year that improvement shouldn't be that hard. Having a guy like Mewhort to push the current starters and provide depth is a major step up from last year when the argument was the backup couldn't be any worse. The biggest concern right now has to be Holmes, but given the FOs faith in him, I'd be shocked if he was a disaster. This line won't be dominant, but it should climb out of the cellar and show some decent play, especially as the year goes on. That will do wonders for our run game and our stable of backs.
Thirdly, the running backs. We have some talent back here and if the play calling, health and blocking improve, look for the Colts to actually be a two dimensional offense for once. I'm most excited about having Bradshaw back this year. He is by far the most talented back we have and if he can stay relatively healthy (the guys always struggled with injuries but fights through them), he can really contribute to this team not only with his running, but his pass blocking, which is phenomenal. Richardson returns after a much criticized first year as a Colt and I look for him to step up his game significantly. I don't expect him to perform at an All Pro level, but if he can be a solid bell cow type of back for this team that is a major plus for us. I think he trusts his line more this year, is more familiar with the scheme and plays with a chip on his shoulder which should result in a solid year. He many never justify the trade in a lot of peoples eyes, but that is history and being a solid contributor is now what is important. Finally, Ballard returns from injury and provides another option. People seem to have forgotten that he was a pretty decent back for us in his rookie year. I expect him to be brought along slowly and contribute more as the year goes on.
I look at this offense and there is a lot to like. There is enough talent in the OC, line and RBs along with a deeper WR core should result in a decent running game that run the ball when it needs too. The biggest knock on the running game last year is while they ran it well at times, they didn't run well with any consistency. The pieces are in place for that to change this year and hopefully take some of the load of Luck's shoulders.