Colts Running Back Mike Hart Likes Situation Entering Third Season
INDIANAPOLIS – Mike Hart likes his situation right now.
That's because for the first time in what seems like a long time, Hart – a running back entering his third season with the Colts – feels ready. Really, really ready.
He has experience. He feels comfortable in the Colts' offense.
He feels healthy.
And most imantly, Hart said, he not only knows his role in the Colts' offense, but he feels as if he is ready to really, really excel within it. That, Hart said, is a lot to like.
"I'm healthy as I've been in the NFL," Hart said recently at the Colts' 2010 organized team activities, which concluded on June 11 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"I'm happy where I am. I want to get better every day, and I'm trying to get better every day."
Hart (5-feet-9, 206 pounds) has done just that, particularly in the past season and a half.
Doing so wasn't close to easy.
Hart, a sixth-round selection by the Colts in the 2008 NFL Draft, impressed coaches quickly as a rookie, earning a roster spot in training camp. He then got playing time as a third running back before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in October of that season.
He returned last season, spent time briefly on the practice squad before playing nine games and re-establishing himself as a solid, versatile reserve running back.
But before he did, he sustained a high-ankle sprain during the preseason. He was released by the Colts twice during the season – once at the beginning of the regular season and once briefly later in the season. Although Hart said the process wasn't easy, he said it's his nature to approach it as he did.
And how he did that was continuing to work, whatever the circumstance.
"I've just always had that never-quit-attitude type of thing," Hart said. "Coming off knee surgery, then I had the high-ankle sprain in preseason, then getting hurt – you kind of get forgotten about. It's one of those things where you try to get back to a level where you can compete, then just get better every day.
"And I think I'm back."
Hart said his personal history may have helped him in his return.
Hart was one of the most successful backs in Big Ten history while at the University of Michigan. He finished his career as the school's leading rusher, and was one of the most prolific high school running backs in the history of the state of New York, too. Still, since joining the Colts, he has talked often of being overlooked both at the high school and collegiate level.
In that sense, Hart said returning from an injury wasn't all that dissimilar.
"It's always there," Hart said. "'He's too small. He's too slow. He gets injured too much.' That's how it always is. It's nothing new. Everyone knows that. There's nothing you can do except prove people wrong."
And at this point, after hearing it almost since he can remember, Hart said he is past the point where such talk influences him positively or negatively on or off the field.
"No question," Hart said. "Things don't always go as planned and people are always going to talk bad about you no matter what you do. You have to go ahead and not really listen to them. I don't listen to them. So, I just keep going."
Hart, after re-signing with the Colts early last season, finished the season with 70 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, developing into an option as a short-yardage back.
The Colts early in the off-season released running back Chad Simpson, a reserve the past two seasons, leaving Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Hart as the backs on the roster with NFL experience. And Hart said during OTAs he feels as good physically as he has felt in nearly two years.
"It takes a while," Hart said. "Last year, coming off the knee – they say it takes a full year coming off of that. Definitely in training camp last year I had achy knee, that kind of thing. Then, with the high-ankle sprain – those things never heal until you get time. I think I'm at the point right now where I'm as healthy as I've been in a while. I'm as healthy as I've been since my junior year in college.
"I'm just excited to go back out there and continue to help us out."
Hart said while his time in the NFL in a sense has been limited by various circumstances, it's just as true that he has played enough to see that he can play at the professional level. In that sense, Hart said his experience in his first two NFL seasons has been beneficial.
"You develop that confidence level," Hart said. "Anyone will tell you, the more years you play in the league, the older you get, the more confidence you get and the more you know your own ability. Although I haven't played a lot in games, with the practice repetitions I get I feel I get better and better and more comfortable every day I'm out there with (Colts quarterback) Peyton (Manning).
"Compared to when I was a rookie, I know what's expected now when I get out there."
Which is why Hart said he believes this season presents a perfect scenario for him – the right combination of experience and readiness to make a positive contribution in one of the NFL's most productive offenses.
"I'm happy where I am," Hart said. "I want to get better every day, but I know what my role is. I'm going to be ready when called upon.
"Every year you want to think you're going to have a great year, but this year, mentally my body – mentally and physically I think I'm at a point where I can have a great year and really help this team out when called upon."