Over the next few weeks, we will be looking position by position at the current talent on the Indianapolis Colts' roster and previewing the battles that may take place in training camp. Today we look at the running backs.
In today's NFL, the run game has become sort of an afterthought. There is a reason why the Jaguars do not want to give Maurice Jones-Drew a new contract: even with the league's leading rusher, the Jaguars still only won five games in 2011.
Still, a great run game can really take the pressure off of a quarterback, which is good in any situation but especially if he is young. The Colts have a young quarterback with enough pressure on him already - labeled the best prospect since John Elway, the first pick in the draft, and replacing possibly the greatest quarterback of all time - that he does not need the pressure of carrying a bad team in his rookie year.
The running backs on the Colts' roster are currently Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, Delone Carter, Darren Evans, Deji Karim, and the recently signed Mewelde Moore. Ballard is a rookie, Brown is a fourth year former first round pick, Carter is going into his second year, Evans spent time with the Colts at times last year but spent a lot of the season on the practice squad. Karim was signed as a free agent from Jacksonville this offseason and is entering his third year, and the nine-year veteran Moore was signed two days ago after four years in Pittsburgh.
Moore easily brings the most experience of any back on the roster, as well as the most production. In fact, other than Moore and Donald Brown, no running back on the roster has surpassed 400 rushing yards in their career. Moore has 2,247 career rushing yards (along with 1,875 receiving yards) while Brown has 1,423 career rushing yards. Carter has 377 career rushing yards, Karim has 290, and Evans and Ballard have never carried the ball in a regular season game. Before the Mewelde Moore signing, the Colts were severely lacking in experience. They still are, but at least now they have a veteran presence.
Donald Brown will enter training camp as the starter, but is not guaranteed of the spot for any time after that. If Delone Carter can get his fumbling problem under control, he will make a major push for the starting job. Vick Ballard has reportedly been making a big impression on the Colts staff, and even if he does not win the starting job he will get good playing time. Moore could be a great 3rd-down back and could bring leadership and experience to the group. Evans and Karim will each likely have an uphill battle for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Donald Brown earned the right to the starting spot last season with an impressive year, but in no way did he earn it for this season. Can he continue to surprise and produce? That will be a big story to watch this upcoming year. I am always weary of a guy being a "one-year wonder". Brown was not necessarily a "wonder", but he was to Colts fans.
Carter has a lot of potential in my opinion, but nothing can derail a career faster than trouble hanging onto the football. Carter was responsible for three of the five fumbles lost by the Colts last season. That led to him seeing decreased playing time later in the year. He will enter training camp with a clean slate and a new coaching staff, but he has to take advantage of it. I think he has the highest potential out of all of the Colts' backs, but he must run like he did prior to his fumbling issues. After he began fumbling, he looked like a different back.
Ballard, a rookie, has made a good impression in offseason workouts and will enter training camp with a great opportunity to earn more carries. With how uncertain the Colts' running back position is, a very strong camp could mean that he makes a case for the starting job.
Moore is a 29-year old who has the makings of a very good 3rd-down back. Both a good runner and a good pass catcher, he is versatile and will contend for the 3rd-down job (and he probably will get it).
Along with the battle for significant playing time, the battle for a roster spot will also be interesting. Darren Evans and Deji Karim will both be trying to make the roster, and who knows what other backs the Colts may add.
In my opinion, Brown will enter the regular season as the starter, with Carter, Ballard, and Moore seeing significant carries. I think that Moore will be the primary 3rd-down back, but in short yardage I think both Carter and Ballard will get the carries. I think that Darren Evans will make a strong showing, but keeping five backs is something I am not sure the Colts will do. The position is in no way decided, however, and it will be one of the big position battles to watch as the regular season approaches.
And just because many have asked, the Colts do not currently have a fullback on their roster. They likely will not sign one either. They will use tight ends as fullbacks when needed, and likely it will involve pre-snap movements. As of right now, it looks as if the Colts will just use tight ends as fullbacks.
What do I expect from the run game this year? I expect about the same production as last year. And with some of the awful run games the Colts have had in recent years, I will take it. Finally, a Colts running game appears to have depth.
PROJECTED STARTER: Donald Brown
BATTLING FOR STARTING SPOT: Delone Carter, Vick Ballard, Mewelde Moore*
BATTLING FOR A ROSTER SPOT: Darren Evans, Deji Karim
*Moore is not necessarily making a case to be the every down starting back, but will be making a case for significant playing time and being the 3rd-down back, which is in a way sort of a starter.