Entering last season, the Colts had running back Frank Gore on a pitch count.
"[We'll be watching him] very closely," head coach Chuck Pagano said last year. "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."
By midseason, the Colts seemed to be going away from that pitch count as a result of Andrew Luck’s injuries, but with Luck back now will they pick it back up?
Not exactly. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski today emphasized that Gore isn’t on a pitch count, instead saying that the Colts need to simply be smart with how they use him.
“I don’t like the word ‘pitch count,’” Chudzinski said. “I think the word is that we have to be smart in making sure that we have a rotation that keeps him fresh and effective throughout the course of the season. What that is in numbers isn’t as important. I think as a coach you assess that as you’re going through the course of the season and you know. It also has to do with who comes through at that position as well. So that’s what a big part of this camp is seeing at running back who’s going to be the guy or the guys that come through and are able to make sure that when Frank’s out or if Frank’s out that we can operate at the same level.”
The message is clear: there’s no longer any set mark the Colts have Gore on; rather it’s going to be the coaches evaluating how he’s doing as the season goes on and making efforts to be smart about it and keep him fresh. That’s a much better way to do things, as sometimes the pace of the game can dictate other things and their new approach allows for that more than last year’s approach.
Of course, without a doubt the Colts need other running backs to step up. The fact of the matter is that Frank Gore is 33 years old, so the Colts are going to need to find other backs who can take some of the load off of the veteran’s shoulders. And make no mistake, the Colts going away from Gore’s pitch count doesn’t mean his workload will skyrocket, as he still carried the ball 260 times last year - the fifth-most of any player in the NFL (and just seven carries away from sole possession of third place). It’s unlikely that he’ll reach that mark again (it was tied for the fourth-most in a season in his career), so this will be more about adapting to situations than expanding his workload overall.
Either way, the Colts need younger guys to step up. Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman, and Josh Ferguson are among those running backs competing for depth spots on the roster, and the three of them provide an interesting group of backs who could push not only for roster spots but playing time as well.
The position is without a doubt led by Gore, however, and Rob Chudzinski is still convinced the back has what it takes to produce in the NFL.
“Backs with great vision, like Frank has, in my opinion they age well and he’s able to see holes and find holes, he’s still got great feet,” Chud said. “Maybe he doesn’t have the top-end speed that he did at one time, but the other thing about Frank is that it hasn’t gotten too old for him. He still loves being out there, he’s like a kid playing. We had the first day of pads and he’s yelling and screaming and having fun and wanting the ball and wanting to run certain plays and that kind of stuff. And those are the guys that you love and you love coaching and you love having him on the team.”