INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July — and the start of training camp — upon us, it’s time for the Indianapolis Colts’ Burning Questions series.
We continue today with the running back position:
» What’s Marlon Mack’s potential at full strength?
In Marlon Mack’s rookie season in 2017, he played the entire year with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Last year, Mack missed four of the Colts’ first five games as he dealt with a nagging hamstring injury, as well as a foot issue. So suffice to say, the Colts are excited about the prospects of having a fully-healthy Mack as their featured back heading into the 2019 season. Playing in just 12 games last year, Mack still had 195 carries for 908 yards and nine touchdowns, while also adding 17 receptions for 103 yards and another score. He also saw his yards-per-carry average improve from 3.8 his rookie season to an impressive 4.7 in 2018. Those results stretched out over a 16-game season would’ve resulted in Mack logging more than 1,200 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, which would’ve been the best single-season performance by a Colts running back since 2005, which Edgerrin James ran for 1,506 yards and 13 scores. Head coach Frank Reich has said his No. 1 priority for the offense in 2019 is to run the ball with better consistency, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Mack repeats his performance from Weeks 6-17 last year, when he ranked fourth among all NFL running backs with 874 rushing yards, and tied for third with nine touchdowns.
» Can Nyheim Hines get to 1,000 all-purpose yards?
Nyheim Hines was selected by the Colts in the fourth round of last year’s NFL Draft for his potential not only in the running game, but out wide as a receiver and also as a returner. As it turned out, Hines started to realize that potential much faster than expected. Hines not only had 85 rushing attempts for 314 yards and two touchdowns, but his 63 receptions were the third most by a rookie in franchise history. In all, Hines had 739 yards from scrimmage (314 rushing and 425 receiving), and he has a clear goal for himself in 2019: 1,000 all-purpose yards. To accomplish that feat, Hines needs to average about 16 to 17 yards more per game than the 46.2 he averaged as a rookie; that doesn’t sound like much, but one also has to take into consideration that the Colts have a few more offensive weapons this year — guys like Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell — and it’s yet to be seen how a fully-healthy Marlon Mack will affect Hines’ carries. One thing’s for certain: Reich and the Colts are ecstatic to have such a young, dangerous, versatile weapon that can be useful on all three downs, so it’ll be interesting to see how Hines’ role expands even further this season.
» Who can win carries between Spencer Ware, Jordan Wilkins and Jonathan Williams?
What’s clear at this point is Mack and Hines are atop the Colts’ depth chart at running back. What’s unclear is how the rest of the group shakes out heading into training camp — and that’s a good thing. Right now, three backs — Spencer Ware, Jordan Wilkins and Jonathan Williams — will be vying for whatever carries are left behind Mack and Hines, and all three are intriguing options. Ware, signed as a free agent this offseason, is three years removed from a 921-yard season with the Kansas City Chiefs, and has proven to be an excellent receiving option out of the backfield, with 59 career receptions for 676 yards and two scores. Wilkins showed off his trademark patience and vision when he got opportunities as a rookie last season in Indy, finishing with 60 rushing attempts for 336 yards — for a robust 5.6 yards-per-carry average — and one touchdown. And Williams, a fifth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2016, has had limited in-game opportunities, but general manager Chris Ballard has raved about his abilities as a more traditional back. This could be one of the more interesting under-the-radar competitions during training camp and the preseason.