Scottie Montgomery's first job in the NFL was as the Pittsburgh Steelers' wide receivers coach from 2010-2012. That gig meant managing a remarkable group of players — Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Antwaan Randle El all played for Montgomery in that stretch.
In his return to the NFL after nearly a decade spent in college football, Montgomery will coach a similarly stacked position group: The Colts' running backs.
And his experience keeping those standout receivers in Pittsburgh happy should carry over to what he'll be tasked with in Indianapolis.
"At the end of the day, you have to create competition within the room to be able to handle that," Montgomery said. "Then you have to be brutally honest in the way that you talk to them. These are the highest level of professionals. They have been doing this forever. They want to hear what they need to get better at and that's what we did.
"Then at the same time, the room also has to be the most important thing in the world to everybody in the room – making sure that room when we fit in the building, that we are holding up our part of the circle, our part of the ring that's strong. Being divisive is not going to help.
"As I talked to Hines and we brought Mike Wallace along, then we had Antonio and Emmanuel, we really had them in the situation where we had them competing at a high level to even crack the lineup – not even to catch balls, but to crack the lineup. Once you build that level of respect for the work and the trust and the honesty that goes in with the critique.
"If everyone knows that everyone is being held accountable, myself included, then at the end of the day it's all about how do we make sure that our part of the ring is as strong as the rest of the building."
Here's how the Colts distributed touches to their top three running backs in 2020:
Jonathan Taylor: 268 (232 rushes, 36 receptions, 1,468 yards from scrimmage)
Nyheim Hines: 152 (89 rushes, 63 receptions, 862 yards from scrimmage)
Jordan Wilkins: 96 (84 rushes, 12 receptions, 413 yards from scrimmage)
The return of Mack — who suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury in the second quarter of the Colts' first game of 2020 — adds a productive player who had 261 touches in 2019 to the mix. Mack had over 1,000 rushing yards two years ago; Taylor eclipsed that mark in 2020.
And over the last two seasons, only six teams have more rushing plays of 10 or more yards than the Colts' 117 (and, as a bonus fun fact, only two defenses have allowed fewer rushing plays of 10-plus yards than the Colts' 75).
"This is going to be crazy because once one guys gets hot, it doesn't stop because the next guy is going to do the same thing and the next guy – like all of us have that one-play thing," Mack said last week. "We all can take one play and it's going to pop for 60."
That kind of cohesive, supportive spirit is something Montgomery has taken note of as he's learned about the players he'll coach in 2021. He's noticed high football IQ, good practice habits and a commitment to pass protection and ball security from the Taylor/Mack/Hines/Wilkins quartet, too.
But that rooting-for-each-other vibe in the Colts' running back room is important for keeping a strong "ring," as Montgomery did with the Steelers' wide receivers a decade ago.
"The intangible that you can't see when you look at tape but just from listening to people that are in the building, is that they care for one another," Montgomery said. "When one does well, the whole room does well. It's a very unique situation and the type of people that we have in the room is also unique. No question whatsoever.
"There is such a level of competition in every room, but it's very rare to have a room where you see great competition and people happy for people competing and being able to execute at a high level."