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How Does Vick Ballard's Injury Impact the Colts?

Colts' starting running back Vick Ballard is out for the year with a torn ACL. How does that impact the Colts this season? Josh Wilson takes a look at that question.

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There's really no other way to start this article than to say that I feel terrible for Vick Ballard.  Obviously, as we look at the impact his injury has on the Colts, we can't forget the fact that this young man suffered a "freakish" knee injury in practice and is out for the year.

You never want to see a guy get injured like this, but the fact that it happened in practice makes me feel even worse for him and the fact that it happened so early in the season adds to that feeling as well.  We wish you a really speedy recovery, Vick, and can't wait to see you on the field again next year.

Basically, to catch the two of you who haven't heard this news yet up to speed, Vick Ballard suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee in practice yesterday and it turned out to be a torn ACL.

"Nobody touched him," Ahmad Bradshaw said today."Everybody saw it. They just gasped. He was going through the hole on a team drill. He was trying to weave through the line. His foot got caught in the ground and it happened."

"Freakish" is the word head coach Chuck Pagano used to describe it.  "Just keep your head up," veteran wideout Reggie Wayne told Ballard today.  "We'll fight for you."

Thus is the sentiment around the Colts' complex today.  Pagano seemed rather down, and understandably so.  The team had lost their starting running back.

This past offseason, however, Ryan Grigson had made the move to sign the veteran Bradshaw - a guy who clearly was the most talented of the Colts' backs but who has had lingering injuries, including one that kept him out for the entire preseason this year.  Grigson brought him in to be a part of a running back committee with Ballard.

Another bit of good news is the fact that, due to Bradshaw missing the preseason, Donald Brown saw a lot of playing time.  With Ballard out now, Brown will be asked to step into a bigger role than anyone anticipated, although he might just be doing what he did in the preseason.

Lastly, Grigson drafted a speedy running back with talent in the seventh round of the draft and it seemed like the Colts were just storing him on the practice squad to continue to develop and would sign him to the active roster if an injury occurred.  Well, an injury did occur, and the plan is to re-sign Kerwynn Williams from the practice squad.

That said, however, losing Ballard hurts.  It's a big blow.  Not so much because Ballard is an incredible player but because he's a reliable and consistent one who figured to play a big role this year and was showing signs of improvement.  Also because of the fact that, while the depth might seem solid, it can't really make up for this loss.

So here's the implications that Vick Ballard's injury will have on the Indianapolis Colts' this season (in no particular order):

  1. Ahmad Bradshaw is going to have to take an increased load. Talent-wise, he can more than handle it.  But durability-wise, that's a major question mark.  He never has been the most durable player and has struggled with continual foot injuries throughout his career.  It seemed great to put him in a two-back system with another talented back in Ballard so that Bradshaw's carries wouldn't get too high and, hopefully, try to prevent injury that way.  Now, however, I think it's pretty clear that Bradshaw is the starting running back and will be treated as such. "I'm ready," Bradshaw said today.  "That's just what happens when this happens. I've been working hard for this. You never know what can happen. Next man up." He's ready now, and he can handle it now, but over the course of a sixteen-game season?  That's an even bigger question mark now than it was before.
  2. Donald Brown is being given an opportunity to step up. He has to take advantage of it.  He actually impressed me in preseason, but this is different now.  This is for real.  He has had a disappointing career so far, but he has shown flashes of being good.  The problem is that those flashes come few and far between, and what the Colts really need from Brown is consistently solid production.  If he turns out to hit a few home runs, then great, but overall they need him week in and week out to be a solid back.  He hasn't done that in his career, but he's being given another opportunity now (perhaps his last one to prove himself to the Colts).  He needs to take advantage of it - for his sake and for the team's.
  3. Andrew Luck's pass protection may have just gotten even worse. It has been talked about quite a bit already, but Vick Ballard's pass blocking on Sunday was very good.  According to Ballard himself, he was six-for-six on blocking assignments and Chuck Pagano raved about his blocking as well.  With Jim Irsay saying on twitter that the team as a whole needs to do a better job protecting Luck, that running back part took a slight hit.  But, one positive thing: Ahmad Bradshaw is perhaps the best pass blocking running back in the league.  Even better than Ballard.  But still, the Colts go from two good pass blocking backs in Ballard and Bradshaw to one (Bradshaw) and then another one who is pretty bad at it (Brown).
  4. The run game emphasis may become a bit less emphasized. No, this injury is not going to make the Colts' coaching staff completely change their offensive philosophy.  But it could cause them to modify it just a bit (and either way, they definitely will).  Fans were hoping that the Colts would throw it more, and they might just get their wish.  The offense won't completely change philosophies, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Colts throw it more than they initially were going to.  And while this is the worst way for that change to come about, it might be good for the offensive scheme overall.  We'll see.
This is a big loss, yes, but it's one the Colts can overcome.  They lose a big piece in their offense, but the biggest and most critical piece is still there, and that's Andrew Luck.  As long as he's still standing, the Colts will be fine.  They'll be without a good player and their starting running back, but this isn't a season-ending injury for the Colts like it is for Ballard.  They'll keep fighting and they'll stick with their mantra of "Next Man Up."  It's a tough injury that will absolutely affect them, but they'll keep pushing forward.  The Colts will be ok.

The Boss Weighs In:

The Bossman himself, the head honcho, Mr. Jim Irsay, shared his thoughts on Ballard's injury via (what else?) his twitter account.  Here's what he had to say:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>We&#39;re all hurting for Vick BaL..Bradshaw,Brown and others must step up...Grig&#39;s gonna work hard to wheel n deal B4 trade deadline,let&#39;s roll</p>&mdash; Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) <a href="">September 13, 2013</a></blockquote>

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A trade?  What?  Don't read too much into it yet.  Ryan Grigson isn't afraid to make a trade and the Colts certainly will be doing their due diligence in trying to find out who is available, but I wouldn't overreact to what Irsay had to say in this tweet that primarily was, in my opinion, intended to be about Vick Ballard.