INDIANAPOLIS — For the majority of the 2018 regular season, the Indianapolis Colts have been unable to get their run game jump-started on offense.
However, it is likely no coincidence that the one game they eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark as a team was also the one game when they had their lead running back on the field: Marlon Mack.
The Colts have been without Mack for most of the time due to a nagging hamstring injury suffered in the team's preseason opener on Aug. 9. They got him back briefly near the beginning of the regular season, but he left that Week 2 matchup early with a foot/hamstring designation.
Mack has been able to practice on a limited basis over the last two weeks, but we've yet to see a "full participation" next to his name on the injury report.
Colts head coach Frank Reich remains encouraged by Mack's progress, but in the end said it's up to the player to feel fully confident, especially with a hamstring issue at the running back position that has already featured one setback.
"Ultimately, it comes down to trusting the players to say, 'Hey, I'm ready to go. I'm 100 percent. I can let this thing rip. I have no hesitation,'" Reich told reporters last week. "I feel every gear that he has in his body he feels and he has no reservations. I think because of the setback we had, I think after going through that it's pretty critical that the player is just all in and there is no hesitation and no doubt in his mind."
The setback Reich alluded to is something that has been an issue for Mack and starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo so far throughout the summer, as both key players have been dealing with hamstring injuries. It can help explain the length of time they've each been out, as one would want to make sure the hamstring is absolutely ready to go before fully returning.
Although Mack has been a limited practice participant, he isn't stuck in neutral on the practice field in recent days, however.
"Each and every day they add more and more stuff for me. So, I'm getting more and more each day," Mack said this week.
Does Mack feel he can hit his "top gear?"
"Yeah, definitely. I mean, that's what I am working towards," Mack said. "That's what I'm definitely working towards and make sure I get that top gear."
It hasn't been easy for Mack to be a bystander while his team falls behind and is forced to at times abandon the run before they've ever had a chance to establish it in recent games.
The Colts faced double-digit deficits in each of their past two games against the Houston Texans and the New England Patriots. In both instances, Indy has relied heavily upon the pass game to get yards in chunks and get back into the ballgame.
"Yeah, definitely. It's hard. You want to go out there, but I don't want to go out there and hurt myself again and then I'm out longer," Mack said. "It's hard to stay patient because you want to go out there and help the young guys and help the team pretty much and get a win. It's hard, but you just have to stay patient as much as I can."
For the last couple of weeks, the feeling that Mack is soon to return has felt more eminent. The Colts will have their first official practice of the week today to prepare for Sunday's game against the New York Jets, so we will see if Mack's participation has been ramped up to "full" or if he remains limited.
Aside from reaching that "top gear," there are a couple other checkpoints Mack wants to make sure he hits before he knows he's ready for the game field.
"Just (want to) make sure I can go out there and make reads, my reaction to the game and make sure that I feel good," he said.