When Colts head coach Chuck Pagano confirmed the news this morning that the MRI for running back Vick Ballard showed a torn Achilles, he of course encountered questions about what was next for the Colts in terms of the roster and the running backs.
In short, Pagano doesn't know what the Colts are going to do in terms of roster moves, or even if it'll be a running back that they add to fill the roster spot. But what is clear, however, is that the best options for the Colts might very well be the ones they already have in camp.
Pagano was vague when talking about a potential roster move, saying:
"Ryan [Grigson] and I are discussing roster mechanics as we speak and we'll make a decision. We'll check and see who is available and what's best for the team and what gives us the best chance to win and see if we need to get some legs to get us through camp and try and get someone in here with the opportunity to compete and make a roster."
What Pagano wasn't vague about, however, was his praise of the running backs already on the roster. Talking about Ahmad Bradshaw, he said:
"He looks really good. You guys see it, we all see it, and he looks fantastic. He has found the groove to make it. We know how tough Ahmad is. We know how he's wired, so I'm not going to be pulling back on the reins. He's one of those guys we have to protect them from themselves. It will take care of itself. He's not one of those guys that will think about what he went through. He's a football player, tough guy, hard nose. Love to see what we can get out of him."
His praise for Chris Rainey was most effusive, as Pagano said:
"You watch him right now, because you know when we got Chris a year ago, he had been on a couch for 11 months. I don't know what he was doing work-wise but he was living on a sofa with his brother, ‘He Hate Me'. We had ‘He Hate Me' in Oakland. Great dude. Love him. It wasn't surprising to me coming in getting thrust into the action that he did. You've got to play football. It's like coming to camp. You can run, lift, train and do everything all summer long, all offseason long, but until you put the helmet and shoulder pads on and go through this grind, it takes a while to get in football shape. So now being in the program, a year back in the weight room, he's light years, he looks like the old Chris Rainey. When I was at Oakland and I left Oakland to go back to college in 2007, his brother, ‘He Hate Me', he said, ‘Coach good luck. I know you're leaving, but you might want to take a look at this cat,' and he handed me a DVD. It was of Chris Rainey and he was a senior at Lakeland High School. I'm going back to college, so I go home, packed up the house and it's me and Tori, my youngest daughter, and we popped it in and watched four plays. She told me, ‘Go get that guy, that guy can play.' It looked like everyone else was standing still on the tape and that's what he looks like now. You can see the athleticism, the burst, the speed. He puts a foot in the ground and gets north and south. To answer your question, long story short, he's going to help us in the return game and that's going to give him a chance to make this team."
On the position as a whole, Pagano talked about how the young guys have a chance to step up now:
"We felt great, six backs coming in. Precautionary with one right now, understand two coming back, just lost one. It's a great opportunity for Boom (Daniel Herron), we talked about Boom, Tip (Zurlon Tipton), Chris Rainey. We are not going to hand the ball to Ahmad (Bradshaw) 50 times today and let him get every snap and blow him up. It's a great opportunity for those young guys to get them some snaps and some experience."
I wrote yesterday about how the only real good option that the Colts have is for Trent Richardson to step up and play well, and I still believe that to be the case. While his role won't change and Pagano was clear that their expectations for him haven't changed, the pressure is greater on him, as now there isn't the safety net of Ballard to fall back on. I personally had a hunch that Ballard would be the team's starting back by mid-October, but now there's not even that option. Ballard is out for the year, and Trent Richardson will need to have a good year. He needs to. Ahmad Bradshaw is a great back, but he has a history of injuries and his snaps will be limited. So that leaves the other three guys, Dan Herron, Chris Rainey, and Zurlon Tipton. Pagano had high praise for them, especially for Rainey, and was clear that they have a great chance now to make the team.
All three of them have been impressive in camp so far, and each of them brings something different to the team. With Richardson missing time and Bradshaw being limited, the three of them have a great opportunity right now and it'll make for an interesting battle coming up in the next few weeks on who earns the final roster spot or two at the position.
Again, there has been nothing decided about the roster yet, and there very well might be someone else brought in at the running back position - and hopefully someone who will help. But regardless of who that is, the best option for the Colts is the same one that Pagano hopes will happen - that one or more of these backs will step up and earn a spot.
While fans look outward toward a possible free agent signing or trade, the best thing to do might be to look inward, to those already in camp with the Colts, to see who might help replace Ballard at the running back position for the Colts.