The injury bug that haunted Indianapolis last season seems to to have reared its ugly head again by claiming running back Vick Ballard to a torn Achilles tendon.
Reported early Friday evening by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the bad news sent Indianapolis fans into a frenzy. Coming off a torn ACL in 2013, Ballard was expected to play a large part in the three-man rushing attack behind Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. His loss is extremely unfortunate to the backfield and the Colts will have to adjust to move on from the major loss.
But it has happened, and it’s time for the Colts to move on without Vick Ballard.
The most immediate impact from Ballard’s loss will come from starting running back, Trent Richardson. Richardson, coming off an incredibly disappointing 2013, had a short leash going into this season, depending on if he could regain the play style worth his lofty draft position in 2012. Now that the options behind Richardson have been significantly cut back after Ballard’s injury, his leash has doubled in length at the least; the Colts don’t have an option. Richardson has the opportunity to start every game in 2014 and be a great back, and it’s not like the Colts have other backs to go to.
Backup running back Ahmad Bradshaw will also be affected greatly by the loss of Ballard. Instead of simply being a change of pace running back for the Colts as was planned, he’ll also have to pick up any spot duties that were formerly assigned to Ballard. He’ll be seen on more third downs and will be one of the primary pass-catching options in the backfield. The biggest issue with Bradshaw is his brittleness. After a neck injury in 2013 and some nagging knee and ankle injuries from his time in New York, Bradshaw isn’t exactly a safe option in the long run and cannot be expected to play all 16 games as a backup.
The third running back job is wide open at the moment. Third-year pro Dan Herron probably has the best shot at taking the third spot. He has experience on special teams as well and has had a spectacular off season training with the Colts. Former Pittsburgh running back Chris Rainey will also get a long look at the position. He has had some off the field issues in the past, but has enjoyed decent success on special teams with the Colts. Likely, with Bradshaw’s fragility, the Colts will keep both RBs on the roster for depth.
The Colts must also look into the possibility of bringing in an established veteran free agent at running back. While the washed-up veteran running back is often a last resort, there are several serviceable options on the market. One of the biggest names on the market that is worth a look is former Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers playmaker, LaRod Stephens-Howling. Stephens-Howling is coming off a torn ACL last year with the Steelers, but possessed a lot of big-play ability before the injury, much like Ballard. Michael Bush is also worth a look after some quality backup years in Oakland and Chicago. Free agents Deji Karim and Tashard Choice also have ties with the team and can fit into the offense quite easily.
It’s never a good thing to lose a quality player so early in the season, but the Colts will find options elsewhere to make up for Ballard’s absence in the offense. However, if they’re going to get out of this thing, everyone will need to step up, especially Richardson and Bradshaw.