INDIANAPOLIS — Rob Chudzinski is a fan of the weapons he has in the Indianapolis Colts' offensive arsenal, but perhaps none of them have earned more praise from their offensive coordinator than Robert Turbin.
Turbin was signed as a free agent by the Indianapolis Colts last offseason and immediately found himself in a pretty crowded running backs room. He knew Frank Gore was automatically the team's starter, so he set his sights on winning the role as the team's No. 2/third-down back.
But by training camp, that job was essentially all Turbin's. And by season's end, he had scored a career-best eight total touchdowns — seven on the ground and one via the pass — and had earned a nice opportunity to return to the team once again in the same role in 2017.
But while the statistical production was nice, it was Turbin's performance in plays in which he didn't touch the ball that really stood out.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Turbin's pass blocking grade of 85.1 for the season was the second-highest among all NFL halfbacks in 2016 — and was just two-tenths of a point away from Carolina Panthers' Jonathan Stewart's league-leading grade of 85.3:
Colts running back Robert Turbin was one of the best pass blocking running backs in the NFL last season. pic.twitter.com/LxRnM1xdsO — Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 15, 2017
Pretty much any running back that makes it to the NFL was able to put up some huge numbers as a ballcarrier at the high school and college levels; but the backs who can learn to block, and block effectively, typically have much more staying power at the highest level of the game.
Chudzinski said he was elated to see Turbin put it all together for the Colts' offense.
"He's really embraced his role this season and that's been doing a lot of different things," Chudzinski said towards the end of last season. "I've seen big, big improvement as a pass protector. I don't know that that was something that he had ever done before, being a third-down back in the protection game and all those types of things. He's learned to do that. He had some great pickups in the game. He's obviously been in there in a companion role with Frank (Gore) as a runner and producing. I think efficiency is a good word."
This offseason, though, Turbin is improving in yet another way: as a leader.
Beyond Gore and Turbin, the Colts have lots of youth at the running back position — particularly with 2017 fourth-round pick Marlon Mack and second-year back Josh Ferguson — and Chudzinski said it's important to have the veteran leaders lead by example during offseason workouts and training camp.
"He's had a hell of a spring – much better this spring than he was this time of year a year ago," Chudzinski said of Turbin. "He's really gravitated toward a leadership position and helping guys out. He gets on guys when he needs to. Again, I go back to him and the roles he played for us last year he was totally unfamiliar with, had never done. You look at a guy that's been in the league for that long and all of a sudden now he's a third-down protector, something he'd never done before. Obviously you guys know short-yardage, goal line, things like that. As the year evolved on, we saw more and more and he improved and he was there for us.
"I can't say enough good things about Robert."
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