It was the carry that would epitomize Richardson’s entire 2013 season .
The one-time third overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, just two picks after his new quarterback, Andrew Luck, had a lot of trouble adjusting his new offense after the blockbuster trade that rocked the NFL. Cleveland sent their “back for the future” to an Indianapolis team that was looking to fill a hole left by the preseason injury of Vick Ballard. He was to headline the three-headed rushing attack of Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown.
And now, Trent Richardson finds himself a few bad games away from obsoletion.
While Richardson will likely get the nod to start Week 1 against Denver, he will be expected to immediately improve from a horrid 2013. His 2.9 average yards per carry will not bode well with offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton next season. The Colts’ offense is one that thrives in the passing game, not giving the running attack much opportunity unless the team enjoys early success on the ground. Unless Richardson gets his production going early, his season may come to a premature finish.
When Richardson isn’t fumbling the football or crashing into the backsides of offensive linemen, he is able to produce yards between the tackles. Richardson’s stout frame and lower center of gravity (225 lbs, 5’9”) allow him to duck in and out of cuts quickly when he has the ability to make them. He has thicker legs, allowing him to keep his balance when not tackled head-on or wrap-tackled around the legs. In space, Richardson has the ability to make defenders miss with quick feet, but will often opt toward lowering his shoulder to get more yardage.
If there was anything that Colts fans can take heart in Richardson’s game last season, it’s his efficiency in the passing game. He may not be utilized like Donald Brown was last season in the passing attack, but Richardson does have the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. His pass blocking will improve after an offseason in Hamilton’s regime, making Richardson more of a weapon in the play-action game that Luck utilizes well. If the blocking is there and he knows what to do with it, Richardson can turn short screen passes or swing routes into longer gains if he makes the first defender miss.
But it cannot be avoided how abysmal Richardson was in 2013. Though he may have great upside after a full offseason in the offense, he struggled in many areas that couldn’t necessarily be attributed his lack of knowledge in the new system. The 2.9 ypc average often came on short runs that did not show much effort on his part. While the Colts’ run blocking isn’t stellar, Trent could often be seeing stutter-stepping behind the line, without an attempt of attacking the defense.
Richardson’s tendency to fumble in big games had become a flaw in his game, losing a fumble in both the Week 7 matchup against Denver and the rout of Kansas City in the playoffs. While the Colts (narrowly) won both games, Richardson was often the reason that Luck had to pull out his fourth-quarter heroics in 2013. Richardson’s inability to score on the ground also raises concern, tallying just three touchdowns on the year. Finally, the big play just doesn’t happen with Trent Richardson. In the entirety of 2013, Richardson had only six rushes for 10+ yards, making him entirely one-dimensional in the short gain game.
An offseason can work wonders for a new acquisition, and it’s hard to imagine Richardson having any worse of a season than he had in his first as a Colt. Working to memorize the playbook and blocking schemes will assist him in decision making on the field and choosing the correct holes and cuts, which are the strengths of his game. The ability to work beside Luck and learn his preferences in a pass blocker will spell out better proficiency in his passing game, as well as in Luck’s protection in the pocket.
But in order for any of that to happen, Richardson will have to put in the work and the effort to make plays in the offense. Colts fans didn’t see a whole lot of effort from him during the season, but would love nothing more than to see a running back who doesn’t give up after first contact. A backfield of Richardson, Ballard and Bradshaw screams potential, but how much of that potential is realized starts with Trent.