ANDERSON – Rookie running back Vick Ballard always has felt he has something to prove as a football player.
Not taken as a top prospect coming out of Pascagoula (Miss.) High School, Ballard played for two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast College (2008-09) before spending his final two seasons at Mississippi State, where he opened 23 of 25 games for the Bulldogs.
Ballard proved to be an explosive performer in the nation's premier conference, and now he is seeking that next step with the Colts in training camp at Anderson University.
Ballard is one of 26 rookies in camp, one of 10 players selected by the Colts in the draft. He is one of six running backs on the roster of a team that has a new coaching staff. These are proving times again. Ballard is up for the challenge, and he is doing all things possible.
"I really don't know my role right now. I know if I make the team it helps to play special teams," said Ballard. "If that is my role, I mean I'll take it."
While Ballard is keeping his shoulder low and his eyes open, one judge in the process is Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians. Arians, who had two tenures in Starkville, knows how well Ballard is thought of, and he will help mold the young back.
"All I heard were glowing reports on him, and he hasn't disappointed yet," said Arians. "He's a powerful runner. He doesn't look as big as he is. He's shifty. He's got excellent hands. For him, it's just the learning curve of substituted football and all these crazy blitzes that he's not used to seeing.
"For most young backs, blocking linebackers on pass protection is the hardest thing. That's the telltale sign of whether they're ready to play. I'm anxious to see backs on 'backers and find out real quick." I know he's tough, but learning the techniques of pass protection is usually the hardest thing for young backs, but he's shown some great vision in shorts. Hopefully it translates into pads and we can get a lot."
Colts coaches were aggressive in teaching methods with the team during the spring. Information was introduced in fast fashion, with some coaches equating the process of throwing mud on a wall to see what would stick, then throw some more the next day.
As for the learning process, Ballard feels mud is starting to stick.
"Early on, it wasn't. Now, it's starting to stick," said Ballard. "I want to do everything to increase my chances of playing. Blocking and catching increases your chances of being on the field. That's how I look at it. Right now, it's the small things. Small things put the icing on the cake. That's what I have to get down.
"I try to stay as balanced as possible to try to increase my chances to stay on the field. I'm gaining a couple pounds so I don't know if the speed is probably still there. Like I said, I try to stay as balanced as possible."
In his last two seasons, Ballard had 379 rushes for 2,157 yards and 29 touchdowns, while having 30 receptions for 293 yards and two scores. Ballard earned second-team All-SEC honors last season with 193 rushes for 1,189 yards and 10 touchdowns. He ranked fourth in the SEC in rushing yards per game, while his yardage was the fourth-highest seasonal total in school history.
As a junior, Ballard led the SEC with 120 points, sixth in the nation. He rushed for 19 touchdowns on 968 yards (186 carries). He added a scoring reception to total 20 scores for the season.
Ballard has learned lessons along the way. One belief he has is that asking questions can speed the learning process. He is not shy about doing so, and he will ask anyone who can assist.
"Whoever has an answer. Whoever that it, that's good enough for me," said Ballard. "There's nothing wrong with asking questions. If you don't ask a question, that's a dumb (thing)."
Ballard competed for two seasons in the SEC. He saw college football at its highest level on a near-weekly basis. He sees size similarities, but knows the talent level is much different in the NFL.
"As far as size goes, some of the guys on our team (here) you can compare them in size to the guys I played in college," said Ballard. "From a skill level in pads…I knew there would be a much elevated level to the NFL. Here you have veterans who really know their stuff. It's a lot tougher."
Ballard will continue to show his wares and refine the tools he brings. It may be enough to make a difference in 2012.
"I think he'll be a core special teams player for us right off the bat, and a really quality back," said Arians.