When the Indianapolis Colts made their initial roster cutdown to 53-players, many were very surprised to see Vick Ballard make the roster. After Frank Gore, Boom Herron, Josh Robinson, and Tyler Varga, it seemed that Ballard - who missed significant time in training camp and preseason with hamstring injuries - was the odd man out. We soon found out that Herron's shoulder injury is one that will cause him to miss some time, however, and the Colts subsequently waived-injured the back. After that, it made a lot more sense as to why Ballard made the team.
There's another explanation, however: the Colts really like what the back brings to the table. In fact, they feel really good about their running back position overall.
"We feel great about our running back group," general manager Ryan Grigson said on Monday. "Great."
It might sound like an odd statement to make about a group that includes a 32-year old back, two rookies, and a guy who has missed the past two seasons with major injuries, but it's clear that Grigson has confidence in the four running backs.
"You look at it, you have Vick Ballard, who he's had his obvious bumps, but he's shown in this preseason even in a small sample that he's a starter-caliber runner," Grigson noted. "You have (Tyler) Varga who has a unique skillset as well that's carving out a role. Smart, he's showed up big time in the preseason. Then you got 34 (Josh Robinson) who just knows how to run. He knows how to carry the football. He's got things he's got to work on, but we want guys that are trending towards being starters. We think we've got four guys that have starter-level skills. Some may be more polished than others, but we feel really good about those four guys."
It certainly is a group that has the potential to be pretty good. There's Frank Gore, who could become just the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in nine different seasons if he reaches the milestone again this year. There's Josh Robinson, the talented rookie back who the Colts drafted in the sixth round of this year's draft. There's Tyler Varga, the undrafted free agent who really impressed in preseason with his tough running style. And then there's Vick Ballard, who proved himself capable of being a starting back in 2012 before back-to-back season ending injuries. If the group can stay healthy, they should have a nice mix of experience and youth. They have a clear-cut starter and then talented young depth players. That's not a bad thing at all.
And while many fans expected Ballard to be on the way out when the roster cuts were made, Ryan Grigson said he's always hesitant to let a player like Ballard leave. "He's a talented guy," Grigson said. "Like we said, he's done a lot of great things here and you saw glimpses of that. You're going to pump the breaks before you let someone with that talent just walk out your door. He's had some minor dings. They're not majors. We'll just take it day-by-day with him like (with) all these guys."
The Colts are counting on the fact that Ballard can stay healthy, because they realize that he's talented and can help them if on the field. It's the latter part that has plagued the running back recently, including with three hamstring strains in training camp and preseason. But the Colts are counting on the fact that, when Ballard returns to the field, he'll be able to produce and help the team.
One thing is clear: the Colts feel very good about their running back position. Ryan Grigson thinks that they have four players with starting-claiber skills, which could make this position a good, deep one for the team. Though, of course, after two years of Trent Richardson, pretty much anything is going to look good by comparison.