INDIANAPOLIS – Running back Albert Bentley had a noteworthy career with the Colts from 1985-91. Bentley joined the team in its second season in Indianapolis and performed on an offense that grew together over a number of years.
Bentley played behind a talented offensive line that included multiple Pro Bowlers in center Ray Donaldson and tackle Chris Hinton. He played with backs that included Hall-of-Famer Eric Dickerson and Randy McMillan. Wide receivers Bill Brooks, Andre Rison, Matt Bouza and Jessie Hester excelled among the receivers.
The club made the playoffs during its fourth season in Indianapolis and competed well to close the decade. One of the reasons the team had memorable moments was the play of Bentley.
Long-time Colts followers remember Bentley as a productive player running the ball and operating as a gifted receiver and returner. He is the only Colts player ever with 2,000 yards both rushing (526-2,355, 19 touchdowns) and receiving (226-2,245, eight touchdowns) and to top 3,000 return yards (3,175). His 7,775 all-purpose yards rank ninth in club history, and he is just one of seven Colts players ever to top 2,000 yards both rushing and receiving.
Bentley moved from the presence of McMillan in the backfield only to have Dickerson join the team in 1987. Bentley’s versatility eventually helped the team return to more of a two-back attack in his later seasons. His running style was different than Dickerson’s and McMillan’s, and his abilities were honed by playing both backfield positions in college and in the USFL.
“I think (my) background (prior to the NFL) helped. I had done the same thing at the University of Miami and had done the same thing in the USFL,” said Bentley. “Halfway through my final season in the USFL (with Oakland) our fullback was injured, and I actually was playing tailback. But our fullback got injured and we didn’t really have anyone to play that role, so I ended up going from tailback to fullback and finished out the season at fullback for that team. That kind of had me poised to be ready to do the same thing in the future.”
The ability to play both roles was valuable for Bentley, who described his running style.
“I would have to say slashing. I would describe it that way,” said Bentley. “I had the speed to go 70 yards. Of course I had some speed, but I wasn’t like a speed-burner. My thing was more get to the hole quick and to get enough yards to be able to get a first down in two or three tries. It was kind of sneaky, but if I got in the open field I could make people miss. I would describe it as ‘slash,’ slash through the holes and look for a quick opening.”
Bentley finished as one of seven Colts running backs to amass 200 career receptions. He had a defined strength that made him an elusive receiver after the catch.
“Actually, I think my ability to change directions to make a defensive player think I’m going left when I’m going right because in the NFL, you don’t need a big opening,” said Bentley. “The quarterbacks are so good that they can throw to a very small area and all you need is to get a little separation, almost like a basketball player trying to get his shot off. If you are able to get a little separation, you can get a hole. I think that is really what helped me, the misdirection. Make the defense think you are going one way and then go the opposite direction.”
A good barometer for how a player is remembered is by the compliments of former teammates. A number of Bentley’s teammates have no trouble remembering his contributions to the club and the integrity with which he approached his career.
“Albert was one of those multi-purpose guys. If you put Albert in the backfield, he could run the ball hard,” said Brooks. “If you say, ‘We’re third-and-one and you need that tough yard,’ Albert would stick his nose right in there and try to run over people. (You might say), ‘Albert we need some yards.’ He could run by people and get on the outside. (You might say), ‘Albert we need to get you out of the backfield and for you to catch the ball.’ Albert would catch the ball. If we needed him at wide receiver or kickoff returns, he’d do it. He was one of those guys that whatever the coaches asked him to do he would do that.
“I tip my hat to Albert because he was playing well and then they made the trade for Eric (Dickerson in 1987),” continued Brooks. “Albert kept his head up and did his job and said, ‘Hey, if I’m going to be on the field you can put Eric and me on the field.’ He was a great teammate and did what he could for the team. It (the trade) took away some of his rushes, but he caught the ball some more out of the backfield and did some more things that helped us. Albert was a tremendous talent, a great teammate, worked hard, played through some tough injuries, but just wanted to contribute to the team, and he did a great job contributing.”
“Albert always had a great attitude, no matter what. He was probably going to be our premier back (in 1987), then we get Eric (Dickerson) in. Albert would never say a word,” said safety Mike Prior, Bentley’s teammate of five seasons. “He kept working. He could move. Linebackers could not cover him man-to-man. In a way, he was a receiver in a running back’s body. He was versatile. He had good size, good quickness. He was very elusive. He was one of those backs who when you got him the ball out of the backfield he was going to create something. He would take a pounding and keep going. His attitude and work ethic were to the extreme. He’d get knocked down and he would get back up. I thought he was one of our greatest backs. I know how hard he worked, and it was too bad he had the knee injury. It set him back. Years later (here in Indianapolis), you saw Marshall Faulk coming out the backfield and catching the ball. I could see a lot of Marshall Faulk in Albert. Albert could have had a career like Marshall Faulk if he had stayed healthy. I thought he was one of our toughest guys. In practices going one-on-one against Albert, I thought, ‘This isn’t just a running back.’ He was a receiver, too. He had great hips and great feet where he was going to be able to put a move on you and get going.”
Another great judge of Bentley was Hinton, who helped pave holes for the offense.
“Sneaky good. Tough. He had the ability to run inside and out and was a great receiver,” said Hinton. “I remember him being a really good back out of the backfield, and probably his strongest suit was his ability to block. He would pick up blitzes. He knew the game, (and had) a high football IQ. He was a good teammate and he appreciated what the guys did up front.”
When asked if Bentley were pound-for-pound one of the toughest players he ever saw, Hinton said, “Yes. I mean a blitzing linebacker, I would put my money on Albert every time. He was a tough guy.”
“Pound-for-pound, I didn’t want to meet him,” said Prior. “I was glad he was on our team. I have nothing but respect for Albert and his accomplishments.”
Among the warm memories of his Colts career, Bentley appreciates his teammates’ sentiments.
“It definitely makes you feel really good,” said Bentley. “When I run into those guys from time to time they aren’t prompted to say anything, but they’ll say the same things to each other. I was a tough player, a hard player and they really were happy I was on their team and not playing against them. It does definitely make you feel good to know that you contributed, you were a big contributor for the team and guys appreciated you being there.”
When looking back on his NFL career, Bentley knows not everything could be controlled. He largely is appreciative of how everything went.
“There is really nothing I think I could change. I would have loved to have been the guy for the full season of 1987. In 1987 I was really on track,” said Bentley. “I was in the top five of the league in rushing and then the (Eric) Dickerson trade happened. It would have been nice to have gotten through that full season as the starting tailback to see how it would have turned out. In the USFL, I was one of the leading rushers the couple years before. It would have been nice to see that but other than that, everything else worked out pretty well. I played eight years. I can’t complain.”