INDIANAPOLIS —It was the type of performance the Indianapolis Colts envisioned when they selected Marlon Mack in the fourth round of this year's NFL Draft.
On Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, Mack was running wild all over the field, oftentimes using his speed and elusiveness to break to the outside and gain yards in huge chunks.
And while his final numbers — nine carries for 91 yards and a touchdown — easily were the best of his rookie season so far, the plan moving forward is to figure out a way to get the ball in Mack's hands even more.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said if it weren't for a shoulder injury keeping Mack off the field Weeks 3 and 4, that strategy might've already been employed. But nevertheless, the Colts can't help but be excited about what Mack showed on Sunday — and what he could possibly do with even more opportunities.
"I think it'd be wise to try to find ways to get him the football and get him more involved," Pagano said. "I think that would've happened by itself had he been available the entire time. But it's good to have him back."
The Colts entered the 2017 offseason with two veteran running backs — Frank Gore and Robert Turbin — atop their depth chart at running back. While they knew what they were getting out of both Gore (workhorse/grinder) and Turbin (third down specialist/pass protection), the Indianapolis backfield was missing one key element.
Enter Mack, who established himself as one of the best "home run" halfbacks in all of college football at South Florida. General manager Chris Ballard jumped at the chance to get a player with Mack's abilities with the team's fourth-round (143rd overall) pick in this year's draft.
Mack flashed those abilities in the preseason — he had five carries for 45 yards, including a 23-yard run, in the second preseason game against the Detroit Lions — but Sunday's game against the 49ers, when the games really count, was most impressive to Pagano and his staff.
Not only were his 91 rushing yards the most for a Colts rookie running back since Vick Ballard ran for 105 yards against the Houston Texans on Dec. 16, 2012, but it's the way in which Mack found huge chunks of yards: he had a 16-yard run in the fourth quarter that was a near touchdown, a sensational 22-yard run in the third quarter that *was *a touchdown, and his 35-yard run in overtime set up kicker Adam Vinatieri for his eventual game-winning field goal.
"Marlon is a change of pace guy, he's a speed guy. He's an edge guy," Pagano said. "When he gets outside on the perimeter he's dangerous and we all saw that."
Mack said two of the runs he bounced outside against the 49ers were by design; the critical 35-yard run in overtime, however, was all on him.
"The one in overtime was really just me using my vision and going outside and bouncing it," he said Monday. "The other two were designed for me to go outside and some of them were designed for me to go inside. But on the one in overtime, I did it on my own, just took a chance and went out there and used my speed."
The challenge now for Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is to find ways to continually get Mack into space with the ball in his hands. Pagano said there's a number of ways to accomplish that goal.
"No matter if he's right here next to the quarterback or you motion him or line him up out of the backfield and you get into some empty situations – much like San Fran did to us (Sunday) and most of our opponents are going to do with us," Pagano said. "You get those playmakers, you get them out in space and you're going to create the matchups that you want. He's a tough matchup."