INDIANAPOLIS — The running back situation for the Indianapolis Colts in 2017 appears to be status quo – with one notable change.
While many Colts fans and league experts believed the team would select a player at the position early on in the 2017 NFL Draft, first-year general manager Chris Ballard elected to wait until the fourth round.
But all indications are Ballard's patience paid off, as rookie Marlon Mack, a South Florida product, appears to be just what the team was looking for as it eyes the future at the running back position.
Mack was a home run threat every time he touched the ball at USF, where he finished as the school's all-time leader in rushing yards (3,609) and rushing touchdowns (32), and became the program's first three-time all-conference selection.
With the Colts, Mack seems to have a perfect situation: the pressure isn't quite on him to be an every-down back; those responsibilities still belong to the veteran Frank Gore. Mack's also got a tremendous third-down back, Robert Turbin, to show him the ropes when it comes to protecting the quarterback, as Turbin was one of the best at that craft in the entire league in 2016.
Head coach Chuck Pagano said he's eager to see what Mack brings to the table once the stakes are raised next week with the start of training camp.
"He looks good," Pagano said when asked his initial thoughts of Mack during rookie minicamp and OTAs. "He's a quick learner, a quick study. He's picking up things extremely fast. He's got good hands and he's got good vision. He's got a nice jump cut. He's explosive and he can burst. He's good in traffic and he's learning the protection part of it.
"Again, we're not going to know – hitting bags and things like that is one thing and learning who to get on is another," Pagano continued. "Once we get into pads and we get into the preseason, we'll figure out if he can stop and block the guys that he's going to have to block in pass protection. But he's showing some good things out there to this point."
Let's take a look at the state of the running back position for the Colts heading into camp:
— Josh Ferguson
— Frank Gore
— Robert Turbin
— Marlon Mack
NOTABLE CAMP BATTLES:
— Dalton Crossan
— Troymaine Pope
— Jordan Todman (free agency)
Last season, the Colts took four running backs – Gore, Todman, Turbin and Ferguson – onto their Week 1 roster, and that could very well be the case this season, only with Mack in there in place of Todman, who has since signed with the New York Jets.
But one might imagine Mack will get a few more opportunities to show what he can do, at least early on, than both Todman (nine carries in 2016) and Ferguson (15 carries) did last season, presenting an interesting – and, one might imagine, fun – predicament play-calling wise for offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Chudzinski, meanwhile, knows what he has in his first two backs. Gore last season became the first NFL running back 33 years of age or older since 1984 to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, while Turbin provides his aforementioned skills on third down protecting the passer, as well as getting tough yardage for first-down conversions and catching the ball out of the backfield.
Then there's Crossan and Pope, two youngsters who hope to put out some quality tape during training camp practices and preseason games to try to earn a spot somewhere in the NFL, whether that's moving up the depth chart in Indy or elsewhere.
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