Frank Gore is the oldest player who will be starting at running back for a team this weekend, as he makes his debut with the Indianapolis Colts. The 32-year old spent the first ten seasons of his career with the San Francisco 49ers before signing with the Colts this offseason.
The Colts took it easy with Gore this preseason, as he played just four snaps and received just two carries (gaining ten yards) in all four games combined. The reality is that, for a player who is in the top 20 all-time in rushing yards, has eight 1,000+ yard rushing seasons, and has made five Pro Bowls, he doesn't need work in the preseason. And at 32 years old, limiting the hits and the workload for the back was absolutely the right move.
Though he'll be seeing a lot more time in the regular season, the reality is that the Colts want to make sure that Gore doesn't wear down as the season goes on and want to make sure that Gore is there for the most important games late in the season. So that's why, as Chuck Pagano confirmed today, the Colts will have Gore on a pitch count.
"[We'll be watching him] very closely," Pagano said on Wednesday. "We gotta be smart with the amount of carries. He's going to want to play every snap. If we play 80 plays, he's going to want to be in there 80 plays. But I think we all know that we can't do that. We need him. It's a marathon. It's not a sprint. So we've got him on a pitch count and we're going to stick to it."
Gore hasn't been among the top-ten in carries per game since the 2011 season, and in 2014 he averaged just under 16 carries per game with the 49ers (15.9). And that was in an offense that focused more on him than the Colts' offense will, considering that Indianapolis has Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, and others. So I'd expect that somewhere around that same range would be a good estimate for Gore, knowing that there will be some games with more and some games with less.
During Pep Hamilton's two years with the Colts, the team has averaged 21.3 non-quarterback carries per game - and, considering the fact that Gore has never averaged more than 19.5 carries for an entire season (and that was a decade ago), that's not going to be Gore carrying the whole load. That means the team's backup running backs will see some playing time, while also realizing that the Colts might throw it a bit more this year too. Vick Ballard is still dealing with a sore hamstring, so it's likely that rookie Josh Robinson will not only be playing in his first career game this weekend but also see some good playing time too as the Colts watch Gore's carries and snaps closely.