INDIANAPOLIS --- Frank Gore is the starter in the backfield for the Indianapolis Colts, but after roster cutdowns over the weekend, the depth behind him at running back include a couple names some may not have expected entering week one.
"We feel great about our running back group, great," said General Manager Ryan Grigson Monday.
Behind Gore, the depth chart includes three other running backs - Vick Ballard as the back-up, with 6th round rookie Josh Robinson (Mississippi State) and undrafted rookie Tyler Varga (Yale).
Dan "Boom" Herron entered training camp as the primary back-up to Gore but suffered a shoulder injury on a kickoff return in the 4th preseason game. Grigson said it was not a long-term injury, but it put the team in a "tough spot" when determining roster cutdowns. The Colts waive-injured him. He cleared waivers without another team picking him up, and Herron reverted to injured-reserve, ending his season in Indianapolis.
"There are decisions. It was one of the toughest ones we've ever made," said Grigson, of Herron's situation. "But again, you only have 53 spots."
Grigson also answered whether they considered using the one short-term IR spot available to each team per season on Herron, which would have allowed him to come back for the second half of the season.
"Another thing, we don't have a crystal ball on that," said Grigson. "So there's ambiguity, and at some point you have to make a decision. I wish we had 55 roster spots. That's the bottom line. I wish we had 55 roster spots. That'd make our lives a lot easier."
But there's only 53, and Ballard, Robinson, and Varga join Gore in the running back room to begin the season. Robinson and Varga are rookies who flashed running the ball, with Varga also proving to be reliable on special teams in the preseason. Ballard battled hamstring injuries in the preseason, only carrying the ball 11 times for 33 yards in two games, with three receptions for 12 yards as well. After coming back from back-to-back season ending injuries though (ACL then Achilles), Grigson still remembers what Ballard did for the Colts as the starting tailback in 2012.
"Well, you look at it, you have Vick Ballard, who he's had his obvious bumps, but he's shown in this preseason even in a small sample that he's a starter-caliber runner," said Grigson, before explaining what he liked about his other running back depth. "You have (Tyler) Varga who has a unique skillset as well that's carving out a role. (Varga's) smart. He's showed up big time in the preseason. Then you got 34 (Josh Robinson) who just knows how to run. He knows how to carry the football. He's got things he's got to work on, but we want guys that are trending towards being starters."
That was the overall theme in the four running backs the Colts kept on the 53-man roster. Are they good enough to potentially be starters in the NFL?
"We think we've got four guys that have starter-level skills," said Grigson. "Some may be more polished than others, but we feel really good about those four guys."
It starts with Frank Gore in Buffalo Sunday. Only Chris Johnson and Gore have played in each game over the last four seasons among running backs in the NFL. His 11,073 rushing yards will be the most among active running backs in 2015, if Steven Jackson does not land with a team somewhere. And coming off his 7th 1,100 yard season in 10 years, Gore's shown no signs of slowing down, entering his age 32 season.