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2014 Colts Positional Preview: Running Backs and Fullbacks

As we approach training camp, Stampede Blue’s Josh Wilson looks position by position at the Colts roster, looking at the talent they have and at how the final roster might play out. Today we look at the running backs and fullbacks.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Just say the name "Trent Richardson" around Colts fans and you'll be greeted by a groan or a laugh.  Neither of those are exactly that comforting, but based on what we've seen so far, they're both warranted.

The biggest and boldest move that Ryan Grigson has made in his tenure as Colts GM so far has been nothing short of a big failure.  Grigson sent the Colts 2014 first round pick to the Browns for Richardson after week two of the 2013 season.  The stats were unimpressive (458 rush yards, 2.9 yards per carry, 3 scoring runs - and in the playoffs only 1 yard on 4 carries in 2 games).  The film was even less impressive.  I looked at the film in November of last year on why Richardson was struggling, and if you're interested in an in-depth look at the subject, I'd suggest you check it out.  But in short, there were three reasons for Richardson's struggles that I saw last year: the offensive line, Richardson's indecisiveness and hesitation, and the scheme.  The line was just flat out bad last year and they didn't give Richardson much room to run.  That will need to be improved this year if the Colts really want to see significant improvement out of T-Rich.  Not to put all of the blame on the line, however, Richardson didn't look good in terms of his decisiveness in hitting the holes and making cuts.  He looked a step or two behind a lot and perhaps he was thinking too much.  But that's leading into the third reason, and that's simply that Richardson didn't fully grasp the scheme and then Pep Hamilton was often too predictable in a lot of his play calls early on (for more on that and the other issues, check out the article I linked to above).  Richardson has said this offseason that he has learned more in just two weeks of offseason work than he did all of last season with the Colts, as he came in mid-season.

While fans currently don't have a whole lot of patience for Richardson, I maintain the same theme I've had all offseason: give him time.  I haven't given up on him and you shouldn't either - the Colts clearly haven't.  And regardless of what we say or think about him, he'll be the team's starter when the Colts open in Denver on September 7.  Richardson has plenty of things to improve on and plenty of room to improve, but it sounds like he's already improved and is continuing to improve, so we can only hope that his play on the field will be much improved in 2014 as well.  Because regardless, he'll be on the team and playing, and he'll start off the season as the starter.

Who is behind Richardson, however?  Two very intriguing and good options at running back will compete with Richardson for playing time and, perhaps, for a starting spot - those two players are Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw.

Ballard is a great option as a backup running back who is a solid guy as a starter as well.  In his rookie season in 2012 he started 12 games and played in all 16, rushing for 814 yards and 2 scores while averaging 3.9 yards per carry and adding 152 yards and a score in the receiving game.  He entered 2013 as the starting back and in week one he carried the ball 13 times for 63 yards (4.8 yards per carry), doing a solid job there.  In practice before week two, however, Ballard tore his ACL and was lost for the year.  He's a hard-working back who has produced when starting but who seems best suited in a prominent backup role - though, at the same time, he's a guy the Colts would feel absolutely comfortable going to as their starter if Richardson struggles.  I like Ballard and he'll certainly make the roster and he'll certainly get playing time.  And if I had to guess, I think he'll end up being a prominent player and probably even starting some this year as well.

The other option is Ahmad Bradshaw, who, when healthy, might be the most talented back the Colts have.  Bradshaw has two career 1,000+ yard seasons under his belt in his career and in 2013 he had the most impressive single-game rushing performance by a Colt, rushing for 95 yards and a score in week three against the 49ers.  Unfortunately, however, that was also his last game of the season, as he was placed on IR shortly after.  The Colts re-signed him this offseason and if he can stay healthy he'll most certainly be seeing a lot of playing time and would likely end up seeing the most playing time of any back - although, again, that's depending on if he stays healthy and assuming the Colts won't have him on a type of "pitch count" in terms of playing time, and that's not a given whatsoever.

Make no mistake, Richardson, Ballard, and Bradshaw will be the top three on the Colts depth chart and will all figure into the Colts plans at running back this season - it will very much be a running back by committee.  But that doesn't mean that the other guys on the roster stand no chance, and perhaps they'll keep a fourth guy.  Left on the roster currently beside those three are Dan Herron, Chris Rainey, and Zurlon Tipton.

Rainey played in two games with the Colts in 2013 and he never received a carry, only really being used as a special teams guy as a returner.  If he were to make the team this year, he would have to really impress in that area, as he isn't an impressive enough back or a guy who would be worth keeping around as a fourth guy for the Colts.  Dan Herron, on the other hand, actually saw 5 carries for the Colts last year and gained 33 yards and he also gained 57 yards on a reception, though to be sure those touches came in "garbage time."  He, like Rainey, will need to prove his worth on special teams, though he is a more impressive and intriguing option as a fourth running back than Rainey is and therefore I think Herron has a better chance at making the team - even though I still don't consider it likely.  Lastly, Zurlon Tipton was signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan.  Here's what I said about him when I looked at the Colts undrafted signings:

Tipton has great size at 6-0, 221 pounds, and scored 34 career touchdowns, ranking fourth in Central Michigan history.  He was named to numerous award watch lists entering his senior season in 2013 (when he was named a team captain), including the Doak Walker Award watch list (awarded annually to the nation's top running back).  In the first quarter of the season opener against Michigan, however, he broke his ankle.  Stunningly, he came back just two months later and rushed for 398 yards on 74 carries (5.4 yards per carry) while scoring 8 touchdowns.  In 2012, he rushed for 20 touchdowns and 1,492 yards.  He is a well-rounded running back with good skills, though his durability going forward is a concern due to numerous injuries, including the broken ankle.

Outlook: Tipton is a guy I really liked after looking at him a bit more, as I think he's a good back who certainly produced at the college level and who has the skills to be a nice complementary back at the pro level.  Running backs take such a beating in college, however, that they tend to wear down, and add that to injury concerns and Tipton is a guy who I'm not sure you can count on moving forward.  For now, however, he looks like a solid back and if the Colts choose to keep four running backs, I think Tipton will earn the spot.

I still think that.  I don't know whether the Colts will keep a fourth running back, but if they do, I think it will be Tipton.  I realize that we haven't seen him play a single snap yet in the league and the fact that he was an undrafted player, but he is a guy who could be a good compliment to the guys the Colts already have.  He would likely have to contribute on special teams, however, and will need to impress in training camp.  I don't think it's a given that the Colts will keep four running backs (especially depending on how many fullbacks they keep) and so someone will need to earn their spot - I think Tipton can do it, but we'll see.

Lastly, speaking of fullbacks, we all know how important they are to Pep Hamilton's offense, so we need to address the position.  The Colts have three guys on their current roster at the position.  Stanley Havili was the team's fullback last year and did a good job, though he's a different type of fullback.  He's one of the best receiving fullbacks in the league, but he's not great at blocking.  As long as the Colts realize that and play to his strengths, Havili is a good player and a great guy to have around.  The other two guys the Colts have are Cameron White (out of Hillsdale College in Michigan) and Mario Harvey.   Yes, the same Mario Harvey that played linebacker last year.  White honestly seems like an offseason and camp body, though the Colts are always looking to improve at the position.  I don't see the Colts keeping both White and Havili, however, because White is best as a receiving back and in fact caught 94 passes for 1,145 yards and 12 touchdowns in his collegiate career.  If White is going to make the roster, it will be in place of Havili, not in addition to him.  One guy who might make the roster in addition to another fullback, however, is Mario Harvey.  We haven't seen Harvey as a fullback yet so it's hard to say, but it sounds like he has been impressive in offseason work so far and I wouldn't put it past him to make the team as a fullback and really help the team there.  I could see the Colts keeping both Havili/White and Harvey to have two fullbacks.

Ultimately, we need to keep two things in mind about the Colts fullback position: one, the Colts definitely do utilize more of a receiving fullback than a traditional fullback, which makes Havili a good option for the team, and I think he'll make the team as the starting fullback - which means Cameron White probably won't.  Secondly, Dwayne Allen is coming back and is a tremendous blocking tight end who lined up at fullback some in his rookie 2012 season and who likely will again in 2014.  Depending on how often the Colts plan to use Allen in that type of role or something similar might depend on whether they keep more than one fullback or not.  I think Allen will see enough time there that the second fullback is most definitely not needed, and therefore I think Harvey will need to play his way onto the roster.  I don't think he'll make it right out of camp (though, granted, we do need to see him play first) but I think he'll be the first one the Colts call when they need help at the position.

(RB) Week One Starter: Trent Richardson; Backups: Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw, Zurlon Tipton; Cut: Dan Herron, Chris Rainey

(FB) Week One Starter: Stanley Havili; Cut: Mario Harvey, Cameron White

For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson's other position previews:

| QB | RB/FB | WR | TE | OL | DL | OLB | ILB | CB | S | S/T |