The evolution of the Colts running back position has reached a high point.
When Indianapolis won the Super Bowl in 2006, a lot of questions surrounded the future of the team’s backfield. Joseph Addai showed a lot of promise in his rookie season, surpassing 1,000 yards rushing without starting a single regular season game — the only player to accomplish this in NFL history. Dominic Rhodes served as the team’s unquestioned starter for the first time in his career, when an injury to another ball carrier was not involved.
In 2007, the Colts let Rhodes leave for Oakland and leaned heavily on Addai in his second season. His backup? Kenton Keith, a former CFL star running back who had extreme difficulty catching the football — an attribute that helped cut the Colts playoff run short that year. In 2008 the Colts picked up Mike Hart in the sixth round of the draft, and brought back Dominic Rhodes. Lance Ball and Chad Simpson were also depth but they were unproven and not long-term solutions.
With Hart falling early in the 2008 season and Simpson filling primarily only returning duties, the Colts decided to select Donald Brown in the first round of the 2009 draft. While the team did not have a strong ground game last season, the Colts ran the ball less than any other team in the league and the offensive line was not built to pound the ball on the ground. When Hart returned from injury midway through the year, he established himself as the third back and earned enough trust to earn carries during critical times in the Super Bowl.
Entering 2010, the Colts have three proven backs, along with two who should continue developing. The team also added an in-line blocking H-Back in April, with experience as a fullback. Together with Eric Foster and Cody Glenn, rookie Brody Eldridge should give the team more punch running the football.
At no time since Edgerrin James left Indianapolis have Colts fans entered a new season with confidence in the team’s entire running back depth chart, until now. The Colts are adding bulk to the offensive line, a true in-line blocking specialist, and given young players like Brown and Hart opportunities to gain experience that should further their development. All this provides reason to be optimistic that the running game will improve in 2010. The Colts can also be confident that if any ball carrier has to miss some time, another capable player will be ready to step in without hurting the club’s offensive dynamic.
Bill Polian has turned a position on his team from one surrounded by questions three seasons ago into one of its strengths. Very few NFL teams can boast such confidence in their running backs. Seeing the Colts ground game come together should be exciting in 2010.