OFFENSE LEANS ON ANOTHER ROOKIE

For the second straight week, the Colts offense started a rookie quarterback and running back. While Andrew Luck has been a season-long presence at quarterback, Vick Ballard was opening his second career game. Ballard enjoyed a great deal of the spotlight with 20 carries for 84 yards on Sunday against Cleveland.

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sandwiched between the lockers of Reggie Wayne and Andrew Luck, Colts running back Vick Ballard was a little surprised to see the horde of cameras surround him when news broke of Donald Brown's knee injury after the Green Bay game.

The cameras have continued to follow Ballard thanks to a career-high 20 carries for 84 yards in the Colts' 17-13 win on Sunday over the Cleveland Browns.

Ballard shied away from taking the credit this week for the run production, thanking an offensive line that was starting the same five players it had the previous week for the first time all season.

"Watching the film there were a couple of times we ran a couple of gap schemes and anybody could have gotten through the hole.  That's a running back's dream," Ballard said.

An unheralded high school prospect, Ballard's path to reach his own dream has not been easy.

Ballard attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College for his first two years of college before completing his eligibility at Mississippi State.

Ballard had no problems adjusting to life in the top conference in America.  He rushed for 2,157 yards and 29 touchdowns in 25 games, and he served as a solid target out of the backfield by catching 30 passes and scoring two more touchdowns.

The Colts chose Ballard in the fifth round of April's NFL Draft, and the coaching staff raved about the rookie's ability throughout the offseason.

He now has started the last two games and interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is not surprised by what his offense has gotten out of Ballard.

"When he came here, I thought he had that in him.  It was nice to see it come out," Arians said of Ballard's performance on Sunday.  "Making guys miss, being powerful, he blocked extremely well when he was asked to.  He's a good, solid back, and I think the future is bright for him.  I just want to stack those weeks together now on the practice field and in the game where he gets better and better."

Against the Browns, it was Ballard getting the carries late in the game as the Colts tried to finish off a much-needed 17-13 victory.

With 1:50 remaining and the Colts facing a second-and-13 at their 36, Ballard ripped off a 26-yard gain, the longest rush of the season for Indianapolis.

Ballard admitted to getting caught up in the moment a bit by not staying in bounds, but the big picture of such a crucial run proved to be more important.

It was a season-best day for the Colts' rushing attack, with Ballard accounting for 84 of the team's 148 yards on the ground.

Arians knows the importance of a consistent rushing attack, and his rookie back realizes the need for a dual-threat offense.

"We ran the ball early and we ran it successful," Ballard said.  "I think what B.A. (Bruce Arians) wanted to do was stick with it, stick with what worked.  He stuck with it and we were productive with it throughout the whole game, and we came out with a 'W.'

"I believe any football team wants to have a balanced offense.  You want to be able to throw the ball and run.  One complements the other.  When you have a good running game, it obviously opens up the passing game and vice versa."

The 20 carries were 12 more than Ballard has had in any game this season, and the rookie admitted he was ready "to get in bed" on Monday afternoon.

Besides the added production, it is the same Ballard that Luck has seen since the spring, even if the young runner is getting a few of the cameras the quarterback is used to seeing.

"He's done incredibly well all OTAs, all camp, in the games," Luck said.  "I'm just more happy for him to maybe get a little more recognition for the hard work."

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