Editor’s Note: ‘Players We Watched’ is Colts Authority’s annual film review of specific players’ performances during the preseason. The series is predicated on the idea that the importance of preseason lies in the play of individuals rather than the team as a whole. Roster battles and crucial practice squad spots are often decided by preseason showings, and we take it upon ourselves to highlight the performances that stuck out the most to us.
But even in those performances, take everything with a grain of salt. We shouldn’t let the small sample size of one preseason game reverse our previous notions of a player, but merely add it to the pile of evidence built up for a player’s relatively poor or impressive reputation. – KJR
As unfortunate as it is, Vick Ballard’s season-ending ACL tear opened things up for Dan ‘Boom’ Herron to make the roster as a third or fourth back. When Chris Rainey was cut from the team, for what may or may not be playing with a fire extinguisher, Herron became the de facto third back.
It was not an ideal situation for the Colts, with Trent Richardson coming off of a very disappointing season and Ahmad Bradshaw returning from a season-ending neck injury. With questions at the top, depth will be key for the team in 2014, especially for a team that wishes to run the ball effectively.
But during the Colts’ preseason loss to the Jets last week, Herron impressed, scoring the Colts’ only touchdown of the game and generally impressing. Herron finished the game with a grade of +2.0 from Pro Football Focus.
Running the Ball
Herron’s overall stats running the ball weren’t great: 26 yards on seven carries (3.71 YPC). But, on a team where the offensive line depth includes an office chair and a dummy made of packing peanuts, Herron’s 3.7 yards per carry was the best on the team. The next YPC was Trent Richardson’s 2.6.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Colts offensive line!
Herron’s biggest asset when running the ball is his burst. Herron accelerates very quickly and has good balance. He’s a small back, with limited strength, so he goes down fairly easily if he doesn’t make the defender miss completely. In the limited sample, he didn’t show exceptional vision or anything like that. Using him in an I-formation and forcing him to find limited space between the tackles generally wasn’t very successful.
But he certainly is quick.
(Apologies for the choppiness of the GIFs today. My internet connection is acting fickle)
Herron finished with a +0.1 grade in the run game, which seems about right. If you can get him in space, his acceleration is great, but he’s not going to get you much more than what’s there otherwise.
This is where Herron really made his mark. The back caught six passes for 36 yards and a touchdown, and looked very natural catching the ball. He caught all six of his targets, displaying soft hands, and could use his speed and agility in the open space to gain extra yards.
But while Herron is agile and quick, most of his extra yards weren’t gained by ankle-breaking cuts or spin moves. Rather, Herron excelled at simply out-running defenders to spots, or making slight shifts in his direction.
On Herron’s touchdown, for example, he simply out-runs the linebacker to the corner, despite a slight trip, and reaches out for the score.
One thing to note: Herron was just in for pass protection once or twice, but missed a read that led to a sack on third down.
The Colts line up in 11 personnel, with tight end Weslye Saunders in the slot on the left. Herron is in the backfield to Matt Hasselbeck’s left.
With a nosetackle lined up over the center, two defenders showing rush across from the right guard and tackle and just one defender “showing on the offense’s left side, the question is where is the blitz going to come from. There are four main defenders to account for, with a possible fifth from the slot corner on the right side (not likely).
As Hasselbeck drops back, the left inside linebacker to Herron’s right blitzes. The other ILB drops back in a very shallow zone, while both slot corners stay with their man. With just one guy rushing the left side, one of the Mewhort/Castonzo duo can come free if the RILB comes on a delayed blitz.
Herron needs to make the read here and slide over to pick up the LILB.
By no means is it an easy play to read and make, and Herron is a small back, so his vision is limited.
It’s difficult to see from the broadcast angle (Dear NFL, All-22 for the preseason would be fantastic), but Herron doesn’t seem to see the inside linebacker at all, who has looped around Hugh Thornton to go between the right guard and right tackle (yellow). Herron, meanwhile, doesn’t see any free blitzers, so is making his way between the Thornton and Harrison to leak out for a dump-off.
Nobody touches the linebacker as he sacks Hasselbeck and ends the drive.
All Together Now
It was a nice day for Herron overall, but don’t get any delusions of him pushing Richardson or Bradshaw for their roles. He can come in for depth as a change-of-pace back, and be productive in that role, but his size and minimal awareness/vision were on display against the Jets.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be watching for his pass protection on a larger sample, something that could play a big role in his push for playing time.
From what we’ve seen so far, Herron is clearly the third back, and the quickest one on the roster. There is a role available for him as long as he stays healthy. How big that role is likely depends more on the health of Richardson and Bradshaw, but Herron’s play against the Jets at least gives fans confidence in his ability to be productive if used properly.