Lawton Hopes to Weigh Less, Be More Effective in 2008
INDIANAPOLIS – In his brief time with the Colts, Luke Lawton has been many things.
He has been a fullback. He has been a special-teams player. He has been a running back – "in a pinch," as he put it. He even, somewhat to his amazement, has become a fan favorite on a team featuring some of the NFL's biggest names.
Now, he is trying to become something else, something he is looking forward to becoming.
He's trying to become lighter.
"I think that will help me be a better player this year," Lawton said during the Colts' "organized team activities" – 14 days of on-field work that will continue through mid-June at the team's training facility.
"It's just a better fit for a guy like myself – just to be lighter, and a more balanced back."
Lawton, a third-year veteran, made the Colts as a free agent last season, and emerged quickly as a fan favorite. A versatile player, he was the first true fullback to play consistently for the Colts in several seasons.
Lawton, who played collegiately at McNeese State and who had stints with Buffalo, Atlanta, the New York Jets and the New York Giants before joining the Colts, twice was waived last season as the Colts maneuvered their roster because of a rash of midseason injuries.
Still, he played in 11 games, rushing five times for 13 yards and catching four passes for 29 yards and a one-yard touchdown, the touchdown coming in a December victory over Jacksonville. He finished tied for fourth on the team with 11 special teams tackles.
And somewhere during that time, he became a favorite among fans in the RCA Dome.
By season's end, when Lawton carried or made a special teams tackle, fans chanted, "Luuuuuke," something Lawton said was as flattering as it was surprising.
"I'm just happy they know my name," he said, laughing and adding, "They're great. It's awesome to hear that. They did it in college, so I've heard it before. It really did shock me, because there are so many guys like Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Peyton (Manning) and Joe Addai.
"I guess people like rooting for the underdog kind-of-guy like me."
Lawton, who originally signed with the Buffalo Bills shortly after the 2004 NFL Draft, has been waived eight times – once by Buffalo (2004), twice by the New York Giants (2004, 2005), once by Atlanta (2005), twice by the New York Jets (2005, 2006) and twice by the Colts last season.
Throughout that time, Lawton said he typically tried to play around 245 pounds, which he said was heavy for him, but not for the teams for which he was trying to play.
"Other teams have told me they wanted me at 260," he said. "I would be flat-out fat at 260. I couldn't get there."
Getting to his new desired weight shouldn't be a problem, Lawton said.
He said he entered last season around 245 pounds, played around 235 and he said ideally, he would like to play around 225 or 230 pounds this season.
"My main focus is just to improve on the season I had last year," Lawton said. "I've always been a typical 245-pound, 250-pound back, and they don't really stress that here. I'm more of a slash back."
With the Colts' offense, Lawton said, "It's all about speed. It's not so much about power as it is finesse. I really think being lighter will help me a lot on special teams.
"I've always been a big, bruising power back," he added. "Now, I cover all kinds of kicks, play special teams and run routes. Occasionally, I block for short yards, so I'm going to try to get a little lighter, get a little bit faster and get in better shape. . . .
"We'll see how that goes without that extra weight and being in better shape."
Lawton said his shift in thinking goes beyond the specific needs of the Colts and reflects what he sees as a leaguewide trend at his position.
"I've always thought I could play running back," he said with a laugh. "What fullback doesn't? The days of that smash-mouth, (San Diego Chargers Pro Bowl fullback) Lorenzo Neal-type back – there just aren't too many teams that use that type of offense anymore.
"It's a lot easier for me. I've always had to battle to keep my weight down. It will be very easy for me to slim down."
No matter the weight, Lawton said he won't change much about his approach. He said being released, re-signed and re-released so often has taught him the value of an NFL opunity. The Colts last season gave him that opportunity, and he said being a touch lighter this season is only one way by which he plans to continue taking advantage of it.
"I welcome this opportunity," he said. "Here, they know you're a professional and that you know where you have to be and what you have to do. They give you guidelines. Our team is a small football team, but we're a good football team. It shows you size doesn't matter.
"I know how hard it was. It took me three years to make a roster. I won't take any day for granted. I'm just blessed to be here.
"I thank (Colts President) Bill Polian for taking a chance on me when nobody else would."
THE RUNNING BACKS
Third NFL season
Acquired: First round, 2006 (No. 30 overall)
The Colts' first draft selection in 2006, he has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and he made his first Pro Bowl appearance after this past season. . . . In two seasons, he has rushed for 2,153 yards and 19 touchdowns on 487 carries. . . . He started 15 games in 2007, rushing for 1,072 yards and 12 touchdowns on 261 carries. . . . He also caught 41 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns this past season. . . . He is one of three Colts running backs along with Edgerrin James (1999-2000) and Marshall Faulk (1994-1995) to open career with consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. . . . He finished this past season ninth in the AFC in rushing.
Eighth NFL season
Midwest State University
Acquired: Free agent, 2008
Originally signed as a rookie free agent by the Colts in 2001, Rhodes rejoined the Colts earlier this month after spending last season with the Oakland Raiders. . . . He rushed for 302 yards and a touchdown on 75 carries in 10 games last season for the Raiders, with whom he signed as an unrestricted free agent in the 2007 off-season. . . . He also caught 11 passes for 70 yards last season. . . . He started 16 regular-season games for the Colts in 2006, rushing for 641 yards and five touchdowns on 187 carries in his only season as a full-time starter in Indianapolis. . . . He alternated throughout the 2006 season with rookie running back Joseph Addai. . . . In four postseason games following 2006 season, he rushed for 306 yards on 62 carries, including a 21-carry, 113-yard, one-touchdown performance in the Colts' 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. . . . In six seasons with the Colts, Rhodes rushed for 2,274 yards and 19 touchdowns on 550 carries and caught 90 passes for 649 yards and a touchdown. . . . In 2001, he became the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards, finishing with a career-high 1,104 yards and nine touchdowns on 233 carries.
Second NFL season
New Mexico State
Acquired: Free agent, 2007
Keith, who played his first four profe