INDIANAPOLIS – In areas of the game that appeal the trained eye, some people may have noticed the quality of performance Vick Ballard had Sunday against Oakland.
The second-year back carried 13 times for 63 yards, a robust 4.8 average, but it was his dirty work that caught the eyes of some trained observers.
Ask Matt Hasselbeck, who noted the sturdy work Ballard did in protecting Andrew Luck.
"He did a great job," said Hasselbeck. "We haven't had a lot of padded practices and even when we do, you stay away from the quarterback. You really don't get to see defensive line stunts and how tailbacks can stick their nose in there, or guys coming off the edge. He did a great job."
Ballard was six-for-six in picking up blitzing Oakland on-comers Sunday, sometimes finding himself matched against linebackers and other times defensive backs coming from the weak side.
In the transition to the NFL, the Mississippi State product said protection was on-the-job learning.
"I think I was pretty solid last year. I wasn't 100 percent last year, but I'd say I was in the 90 percent range," said Ballard. "I had to work at it. In college, I felt like I got to where I was comfortable picking up the blitzes. When I got to the NFL, it was a little bit tougher.
"Now, I'm getting back to where I feel comfortable (doing it)."
Indianapolis has had a proud heritage with pass-blocking backs. Marshall Faulk was tougher than given credit for, and his predecessor, Roosevelt Potts, was staunch as well. Edgerrin James stuck his nose in many rushers while protecting Peyton Manning, a chore picked up and done quite capably by Joseph Addai, too.
The person Ballard protects is obvious.
"You have the number one overall pick (Andrew Luck), the face of the franchise. If you get him hurt, you might not be on the field too much longer," said Ballard, a low-key person with pride.
"A lot of it is 'want-to,' but it's also techniques to learn. I think Coach (David) Walker has done a great job of coaching us on what we need to do."
Ballard will block who is necessary, but notices differences in needed techniques based on who is rushing.
"With the cornerbacks, the smaller guys, they're going to give you a little wiggle," said Ballard. "The key with them is to sit until they commit. When they commit, most of the time you learn more.
"It's different dynamics (with rushing linebackers). When you catch a linebacker, most of the time they're in the box. You can pick them up as soon as they clear the offensive line. It's a little different."
Walker was "casual" in his compliments to Ballard for his protection performance, a non-issue to Ballard since "it's part of our job. You don't want to praise too much, it's expected."
Chuck Pagano took a different approach later Monday, and in a much more public forum.
"Unbelievable, he was, I think, going over the grades today," said Pagano. "I think he was six-for-six in his protections. He was outstanding. We saw him do the same thing in the preseason, in training camp, practice. He knows exactly what to do. He's not thinking out there, and he plays fast. He did a great job in protection."
"It's so valuable. (A lot of guys can't do it because) they don't have enough lead in their (pants). It's obviously having a guy like Vick (is valuable). (He) can go in there and do that and match up with the guys that he had to match up with. It's huge."
It is ingrained in Ballard the importance of protection. A post-game interview he had last year after the Colts' playoff game says it all.
"Somebody interviewed me last year when we played the Ravens and I had 91 (rushing) yards. They asked me if I were proud of that," said Ballard. "I said, 'Yeah,' but I was more proud of my blitz pickup because I was 10-for-10. That is just as important as rushing yards."
Hasselbeck says while there is a degree of 'want-to,' techniques make the difference in this selfless role.
"I've played with guys who are great runners and receivers out of the backfield and the coach wouldn't put them in the game because he wouldn't trust them in pass protection," said Hasselbeck. "It's technique and knowing your assignment.
"Guys who know the ins-and-outs of the pass protection rules go in there confidently with good technique and get after it. If a guy's unsure, you see his head move left-to-right. You say, 'He's unsure,' and at any position, it's hard to be successful."
INJURY UPDATE – Pagano said the MRI on Dwayne Allen's hip came back negative and hopes the tight end will be ready this Sunday. Pat Angerer, who missed the Oakland game, still is going through concussion protocol."