INDIANAPOLIS – Delone Carter's first two professional seasons have brought challenges of different natures.
His 2011 rookie season was a year of team-wide struggle as the Colts used three different starting quarterbacks en route to a 2-14 record.
Last year, a thumb injury that required surgery robbed Carter of spring work in a new offense. In training camp, he suffered an ankle injury that cost him the first three games. He also missed the final three outings with another ankle injury.
In starting three of 16 rookie appearances, Carter finished behind Donald Brown and Joseph Addai in rushing yards.
A regime change that did not include his position coach, David Walker, put Carter under observation from new eyes. His rushing production fell from 377 yards to 122, while his carries waned from 101 to 32.
That Brown out-rushed him in the same number of games was one thing, but rookie Vick Ballard topped the team with 814 yards in starting 12 of 16 games.
Ballard's one-year start total quadruples that of Carter, so Carter is aware of the urgency for 2013.
"The thing I want is to stay healthy and not to get lost in the shuffle. I want to maintain my position at the beginning and do everything I can," said Carter. "I'm definitely looking forward to having a healthy off-season and the chance to work.
"I've been through it before. Last season was a learning experience. I want to be more patient this season and be ready to seize the opportunity."
Injuries are difficult things for players, and 2012 took its toll on Carter. He feels he can show more than his first two years have allowed, and he would not mind a chance for extended action to display his wares.
"I don't think I've had the chance to really show everything. I know there's more that I have, and it's my job to show (people) that," said Carter. "(I would like) a chance to get enough carries to impact a game more and to beat up a defense more to open up more opportunities for my quarterback and my receivers. An ideal game would be 15-to-20 carries.
"As a running back, you want to get into a rhythm. It's hard to sit down then go in again and get hot again. You want a good rhythm. It's a two-back league, but I would like to find a rhythm within that so you can beat up a defense."
A game that matched that description was at Tennessee last year. Indianapolis tied the game with a late touchdown before winning the divisional battle with an overtime-opening touchdown drive again.
The tying score was by Carter on a one-yard dive with 3:24 to go. It was preceded by a seven-yard run by him on fourth-and-one. The club needed his clutch performance.
"It was a great moment. I was out there and was contributing every way I could," said Carter. "There were key plays, and it was fun being in there. It was a highlight for me."
Chuck Pagano looks for every player to contribute. He is Carter's second NFL coach, and the offense this year will be the third one in as many seasons for the runner.
"Delone needs to stay healthy. If he can do that, I've seen flashes from him," said Pagano. "He has done some great things. He's physical. He's strong lower. If he can take care of the football and stay healthy, we can find a role for him. He can move the chains for an offense. He has some 'quicks' to him. He has some jump-cut ability. He has some 'make-miss.'
"The thing for him is to stay healthy and give us an opportunity to find a role for him. As a short-yardage or third-down back, he can be a physical presence. He can do that in pass protection, too. I hope when he comes back he can be a factor."
Carter appreciates Pagano's assessment, and he thinks he has an overall repertoire that can help.
"I always try to make myself a complete back," said Carter. "I try to get a defense to where they don't want to hit me, and then I make them miss."
Carter is all about looking forward, not behind. He can take parts of his first year and try to mesh it with health to make an impact.
"I definitely am comfortable with who we have now. All the backs I've played with in Indianapolis are good," said Carter. "We all have good relationships and help each other, and that's unique to have in a running back room. We have camaraderie.
"I think I learned the most from Joseph Addai. I learned from his rhythm and experience in the league. I also draw things from everyone around me. Last season was a better season than we had before. We had a young team and we meshed together. It was fun, and it's exciting to think what we can do this coming season. I'm looking forward to my third year. I think it's one where I can make an impact."
Ballard's rookie success was one of last season's biggest stories. In addition to leading the team in rushing, he had 17 receptions and scored three touchdowns overall. He started from week five through the end of the year.
Three times he carried the ball more than 20 times, and the last back to do it once in a season was Addai in 2010. Ballard ended the season with 11 straight games with a rush exceeding 10 yards, and his rushing yards ranked fourth among NFL rookies.
Brown suffered a knee injury on a two-point rush in the club's dramatic 30-27 comeback win over Green Bay, and his missed the last four games on injured reserve.
Brown's 18-yard scoring run at Chicago was the team's longest red-zone run of the year. He had a 4.9 average on 17 carries against Green Bay, a 5.3 average on nine attempts at Chicago and a 5.7 average on 14 carries at Tennessee.
He gained 417 yards on 108 attempts in 2012, and Brown has a 4.1 career rushing average.
Brown had six rushes for 39 yards on an overtime game-winning drive at Tennessee. His production in the extra session set the stage for a game-winning pass by Luck to Ballard. In addition to his two-point run in the final seconds of the win over Green Bay, Brown contributed with three solid runs in a third-quarter drive that cut an 18-point deficit to a one-score game. Brown was cited by the club for providing an outside burst.
Robert Hughes saw duty at fullback in five games before ending the year on injured reserve. Alvester Alexander and Davin Meggett will have free agent chances with the club this spring.
Fullback Stanley Havili, 6-0, 245, joined the Colts in a trade from Philadelphia on March 28. Havili was a seventh-round pick by Philadelphia in 2011. In 2012, he started two-of-15 appearances and had six rushes for 22 yards and his first career touchdown, while adding seven receptions for 43 yards. He helped the Eagles produce five individual 100-yard rushing efforts. At USC, Havili started 48-of-52 career games and recorded 1,799 scrimmage yards (1,290 receiving, 509 rushing) and 15 total touchdowns (12 receiving, three rushing).
"Stanley fills an immediate need for us at the fullback position and provides us with a solid option in our new offensive scheme," said General Manager Ryan Grigson. "His speed, explosion and hard-nosed playing style are his main strengths, but he also possesses sound blocking and receiving skills. Stanley had a very productive career at USC and gained valuable experience as a starting fullback and special teams contributor for Philadelphia last year."