ARLINGTON, Texas — The Indianapolis Colts went three-and-out on their first two possessions of Saturday's preseason game against the Cowboys, and were forced to punt again the third time they had the ball.
But the Colts' fourth possession felt different. The team was able to move the ball down the field — and keep the chains moving — and got as far as the Dallas 15-yard line before bringing on Adam Vinatieri for a 33-yard field goal.
So what changed? Well, that drive just happened to include the debut of an exciting Colts rookie at running back.
That player, Marlon Mack, had rushes of 10 and 13 yards on the drive, and helped open up the rest of the field for quarterback Scott Tolzien, who connected on passes of 25 yards (to Kamar Aiken) and 11 yards (to Jacoby Brissett) in the series.
Mack would return for a drive in the third quarter, and would again make his mark, as his 23-yard run pushed the offense from its own 41-yard line to the Dallas 36. Six plays later, Vinatieri connected on another field goal, this time from 42 yards out.
After missing the Colts' first preaeason game due to an injury, Mack couldn't wait to get out on the field on Saturday. He said he was happy to finally have the opportunity to display his talents in a game setting; his coaches apparently felt the same way.
"It was great … my first NFL game," Mack said. "Coach (Chuck Pagano) has been waiting on me. He's telling me that I need to go out there and show what I've got — show my talent — and that's what I did."
Against the Cowboys, Mack led the Colts in rushing with five carries for 45 yards, and he also added two receptions for 14 yards.
Perhaps most importantly, he showed off the big-play ability that made him one of the more exciting running backs in all of college football last season at South Florida. According to Pro Football Focus, Mack in 2016 had a "breakaway percentage," which is the percentage of rushing yards earned on plays of 15 yards or more, of 52.3 percent.
That was the fifth-best among all NCAA running backs, and only two running backs who ended up being drafted ahead of Mack — Joe Mixon (57.3 percent) and Curtis Samuel (53.8 percent) — were better.
Accordingly, the Colts and first-year general manager Chris Ballard were more than happy to take Mack in the fourth round of this year's NFL Draft, adding his unique talents to a veteran backfield that includes starter Frank Gore and third-down specialist Robert Turbin.
Mack said being successful in the run game is critical for an offense because "it gets the energy going." He certainly accomplished that goal Saturday in his NFL debut.
"It gets the flow going," Mack said. "It breaks the ice. Everybody gets excited and ready to go. Keep it going, keep it going, play after play and try to get in the end zone."
Pagano said he thought Mack was "outstanding" on Saturday.
"He's going to be a heck of a football player, whether he's running the football — I think he averaged nine yards a carry, (and) he made a couple of nice catches," Pagano said.
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