INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Rathman is in his first year as the running backs coach of the Indianapolis Colts. He recently talked to reporters about the state of his position group as it continues through offseason workouts and heads towards the 2018 season:
What are you seeing from the running backs as a group so far?
"They're developing, and that's what they need to do. But they've been doing a great job working, and they'll continue to work. And I like the group; you know, we had a couple good additions with the draft, and I think that's going to elevate everybody's game."
On utilizing a "running back by committee" approach:
"It means we're going to play a lot of running backs, alright? You're not going to have a bell cow, so to speak — a guy that's going to carry the load. And we've got a lot of different styles, and I think any time you have a lot of different styles, you want to try to utilize that. So you run one of the players with a certain style, and you change it up the next series, and it keeps the defense on its toes. So that's what we would anticipate doing."
On going against what the Colts have done with running backs like Frank Gore in the past, being more of a "bell cow:"
"I coached Frank six years in San Francisco, so, yeah, I mean, he's a heck of an athlete, and, in my opinion, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. So you just don't make 'em like that. But we're trying to work with the young guys here, and it is a young group with the exception of (Robert) Turbin, but they're all getting better. I've been putting them through cone drills trying to get better at change of direction, we're working foot speed, those things, and they're getting better."
On the Colts wanting to get younger at running back, and where Robert Turbin fits into that plan:
"Here's a guy that's got experience. So anytime you have a player that has experience that can play short-yardage and goal line, that can go in and play on third down, can pass block — I mean, those are tools that you need as a running back. We'll try to develop 'em in all of our players. I mean, I just don't want to say that Nyheim Hines is a guy that's going to split out in the formation; I mean, he's going to be asked to step in the backfield and pass block, just like everybody else. I mean, I try to coach complete players that can do everything. Now, can they do it? One guy may be better than the other; that's where you get your committee. So we'll see where that goes."
On what he saw on tape from Marlon Mack last season:
"I think he's an explosive player, obviously. You know, he played hurt all of last year, and I commend him for that. You look at his pass blocking, I thought it was solid. Could improve, but after I found that he had a torn labrum, I understood. So I'm looking forward to getting him out on the field. I don't think we'll get him until training camp, so he's going to be a little bit farther behind than these other guys as far as the change of direction, the foot speed, all of those things that we're working on in Phase 1 and Phase 2, so he's going to have to catch up on those drills. But he's a good player, and it's going to be tough — best player's going to be out on the field. So we're looking (for) that from all of them."
On if he has a preference between "running back by committee" or "bell cow:"
"Well, I think you have to have at least two guys, you know? And we may end up having more than two guys that can play. But I think at least two guys. You'd like to have a guy that can play in a base situation; you'd like a guy that can play in a nickel situation — I'm talking about third-down situation, that can pass block, catch the football, those things. But with our players, I think they complement each other, and we'll just try to find the best roles for them. But they're going to have to play all the roles at some point, and that's what we're trying to do as far as (developing) them, to play all those roles, and then we'll pick the one that plays the role the best, and put him out on the field. But you have to have a backup at the same position, so that's why you have to develop everybody to do the same thing."
You're not there yet, though — that's what this process is for?
"I think it's all development right now, and I'm pleased where they're at in the individual drills. So I'm pleased."
On the unique situation of having so many young guys at the position, and if he enjoys that aspect:
"I do. I mean, I think that's one of my strengths as a coach is developing players, giving them the tools to succeed: team them how to block, teach them how to become quicker in and out of a cut — and that's why we work the cone drills, and I know some of you that have been out there at practice seeing us work the cone drills, trying to get better at change of direction. But, you know, I love coaching young players, to be able to develop them and see where they start and how far they go. That's what I really enjoy. So it's not going to be a challenge because I'm used to it and I look forward to it."
And some more bad habits at that stage of their career, maybe?
"Yeah, you just try to break those bad habits, you know? And teach them the good habits, and keep emphasizing those good habits. And if you keep emphasizing those, eventually you'll get 'em. And if you don't get 'em, then the guy's probably not good enough to begin with. But they'll get it."
On what Frank Gore is able to do, even now at the age of 35:
"Well you're going to be saying the same thing about me when I get out of retirement at 55. No, if you saw me move out there today, I'm not comin' back. But to be able to do what he's been doin' really the last two, three years, I mean you just don't see it. And that just tells me that he is the player that everybody thinks he is, or thought he is. And he is going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer — I hope — and I'm really looking forward to that."
On how Robert Mathis has been able to make the transition from player to coach:
"Well, I think he was a dynamic player when he played, so I think he's going to be able to relate with those young players, because he's fairly young; he's not too far past his prime. And he's going to be able to relate to those players and be able to coach them and get those guys to understand what he's teaching. And I think the biggest part of it is the ability to teach, and your players to absorb the information that you give 'em, and I see that in Robert — big time."
Do your running backs know you, and what you did your playing career?
"I think most of them do. They know what the expectations are, alright? I lay it out on the board the first day that they get in there, what I'm expecting from them. And I'm going to hold them to my standards, and my standards were pretty high, you know, coming from the 49ers. And we're trying to develop that standard here, and I think they're buying into it, and it's about comin' to work every day and being a blue-collar worker and carrying your lunch pail. I mean, we're not prima donnas back there; we want to be blue-collar workers, and that's what we're going to try to emphasize."
After being a tough player, do you coach that way, too?
"Oh, no question. I mean, Frank Gore would tell you what my coaching style is. I mean, I expect the same thing out of the players that I did, you know? From the same way that I approached the game, I'm trying to teach their approach to the game is the same way. I mean, you want to beat your defender to the punch, and I think if you do that, the advantage goes into your locker, so to speak. So it's just all the little things: the details, and being a detailed coach, and coaching toughness. I mean that's one thing that I demand out of the players is toughness, because I know one thing: I know that if you are coaching a tough guy, that that tough guy isn't going to let you down. Over the years — and I've been coachin,' I think this is my 19th or 20th year; I mean, I've lost track — I just know that tough guys don't let you down, and that's the things that I'm trying to develop in these young players."
On if he knew when he was playing that he wanted to coach:
"I did. As a player i was kind of a coach out on the field. I mean, (in) my eight years with the 49ers I had four different position coaches in eight years. And Roger Craig and myself, we knew more than the coach knew, so our coach came in the room and says, 'Hey, I'm not going to screw you guys up, so you guys know it, so you can teach me.' But, that's the thing about staying in the same system, and, you know, I was in that same system for eight years, and knew it inside and out, learned how to play the game the right way, learned how to develop standards — coming in every day, being the same guy, and trying to prove every day. And those are the things that we're trying to teach with our guys here."
On what stood out about Jordan Wilkins, and what he needs to work on:
"Well, I think they all need to have work. You know, I don't think anybody's refined at this point. But, right now, it's just seeing what they are, what they can do, how they move, their change of direction, how they take instructions. So that's where it's at right now. I don't think you'll be really able to tell anything until you get into training camp and you put the pads on, 'cause that's where guys are gonna step up and they're going to shine, when you put the pads on, because it becomes a little bit more of a physical game, and you gotta show up every day — you gotta show up every play. And the emphasis here is to play each play, and to win each play. And I believe that as a player you can win each play that you play; if you take it one at a time and all you worry about is the next play, and you win that and you do it exactly the way that you're supposed to do it, the way it's coached, I believe that you can win every play. Now, some players would say, 'No, you can't win every play,' because that's what Frank Gore told me, alright? Until he got in the system and he got coached and, you know, he took it play by play, and he won a lot of plays. So I'm not saying you're going to win every one, but my expectations are to win every play individually."