INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July — and training camp — right around the corner, it's time for the Indianapolis Colts' Burning Questions series.
We continue today with the running back position:
• What will the new "running back by committee" system look like?
First-year head coach Frank Reich said the Colts will be utilizing less of a "bell cow" running back — a player who gets a majority of the carries each and every week — and will be going to more of a running back by committee system.
By doing so, you're giving your players at the position their best chance to use their various talents — whether it's speed, power, vision, pass-catching ability, etc. — and keep the opposing defense guessing throughout the game.
That system worked well for Reich in his time as the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator — particularly last season. The Eagles had the NFL's third-best rushing attack by splitting the carries between LeGarrette Blount (173 attempts), Corey Clement (74 attempts) Jay Ajayi (70 attempts) and Wendell Smallwood (47 carries), as each player brought a little something different to the table when they were on the field.
That's not to say the Colts' system will be a carbon copy of what the Eagles did last season, but, for now, it's a good measuring stick. Should the Colts keep four running backs on their 53-man roster — or whatever the number ends up being — worry less this time around about who "starts" the game, and focus more upon who is being used in certain situations.
"I like the idea of involving everybody," Reich told reporters back in March at the NFL Annual Meetings in Orlando. "I just think it builds something. Everyone knows that they're a significant contributor, whether that's five carries a game or eight carries. You build a team in that way where I think it just creates a chemistry and a bond and that's a good thing."
• How much on-field work will Marlon Mack need to catch up to the rest of the pack?
Marlon Mack, we know by now, played a good portion of his rookie season last year with a pretty serious shoulder injury. So, a few months back, Mack underwent surgery, causing him to miss the entire on-field portion of the offseason workout program.
While Mack's long-term health remains the No. 1 priority, he certainly has some catching up to do to get on the same level as the rest of the running backs, who were able to use the entire offseason program to not only master the team's new playbook in a classroom setting, but were able to go out on the field and eventually practice it at near-full speed.
Mack certainly can be a huge weapon for this offense once he does return. He finished his rookie season with 93 carries for 358 yards and three touchdowns, while also adding 21 receptions for 225 yards and another score, and although he certainly had his rookie moments and his share of zero- or negative-yardage carries, it's the big-play potential he showcased — 11 running plays of 10-plus yards and 10 receptions of 10 yards or more — that are clear indicators of what he can do to opposing defenses.
Add in the fact Mack seemed to drastically improve as a blocker as the year wore on — with that shoulder injury, no less — and he seems on track to, once healthy, become a much more well-rounded running back in 2018.
• What, exactly, is Nyheim Hines?
That's the question new Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni hopes opposing defenses are asking all season.
Hines was selected in the fourth round by the Colts in this year's NFL Draft out of North Carolina State, where the 5-foot-9, 198-pound Garner, N.C., native first was utilized mostly as a receiver.
But as Hines' college career wore on, his coaches started morphing him more and more into a running back, and by the time he had decided to test the professional waters, he had totaled 258 rushing attempts for 1,399 yards (5.4 average) and 13 touchdowns, with 89 receptions for 933 yards and a score. Hines was also a major weapon in the return game, with 88 kick returns for 2,171 yards (ranking second in school history) and two touchdowns and 11 punt returns for 135 yards and a score.
Hines' 4,638 all-purpose yards were the third-most in N.C. State history — and he earned those in just three years.
Oh, and Hines was also an All-American performer on the Wolfpack's track team.
So Hines seems an ideal fit for the Colts' new running back by committee system, as he can do any number of things really well. But it's his potential in the pass game, particularly, that could really set him apart.
In fact, during offseason practices, we saw Hines lined up all over the field — in the backfield, in the slot and out wide. And the Colts quarterbacks already seemed very comfortable getting him the ball, and often.
So what is Hines? Is he a running back? Is he a receiver?
Depends on the week, I suppose.
"He's just hard to understand defensively, in my mind, how you're going to play him," Sirianni told reporters June 13. "He kind of reminds me a little bit of a Dexter McCluster type. I was with him in Kansas City. Teams didn't know what he was. Is he playing running back this week? Is he playing wide receiver this week? What is he? How do I defend him? And now all of a sudden, you're on the offensive and they're on the defensive which is the way it's supposed to be. That's what's so intriguing about him and obviously his talent, his speed, his quickness. He's a really smart football player."