Colts ‘not done’ addressing lackluster running game

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 29 : Frank Gore #23 of the Indianapolis Colts runs the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Indianapolis defeated Tampa Bay 25-12. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 23, 2016) – The Indianapolis Colts apparently aren’t finished addressing a sickly running game.

Despite adding running backs Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman during the first two weeks of free agency, general manager Ryan Grigson indicated the team wants to inject further life into what was one of the NFL’s meekest ground attacks last season.

“We’re not done there,” he told Indianapolis media covering the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.

Good thing.

There’s no argument the Colts have several pressing roster issues moving forward:

  • It’s imperative they add a starter, or two, on the offensive line. Even if Denzelle Good, the 2015 seventh-round draft pick out of Mars Hill, emerges as a starter at right guard or right tackle, the other spot would be wide open.
  • A cornerback is needed to start opposite Vontae Davis. D’Joun Smith undoubtedly is in the mix, but last year’s third-round pick played in only four games while dealing with a knee injury.
  • A pass-rushing linebacker is a clear priority. In case anyone’s forgotten, Robert Mathis is 35.
  • Someone must fill the void created at inside linebacker by Jerrell Freeman’s free-agent departure to Chicago. Look for incumbents Nate Irving and Sio Moore to head the list of possible successors.

But there’s also no argument the Colts must fix a broken running game. It ranked No. 29 in the league last season, averaging 89.9 yards per game, and No. 31 in yards per attempt (3.6).

Any upgrade must start with what was a substandard offensive line in ‘15. Too often, Frank Gore encountered resistance as soon as he took the handoff from Andrew Luck. He averaged 3.7 yards per attempt, easily the lowest of his career.

As the season unfolded and the running game continued to falter, Gore expressed frustration over the shoddy blocking.

Gore was considered a short-term fix when he signed a three-year, $12 million contract last offseason. Even though he turns 33 in May, there’s every reason to believe he provide the Colts with a legitimate ground threat if his supporting cast improves.

The overriding question: who’s the long-term answer?

It’s hard to imagine Turbin making the substantial leap from four-year backup to feature back. He’s rushed for 1,127 yards and averaged 4.0 yards per attempt in 58 career games. Todman’s resume is even more modest: 472 yards in 44 games.

Perhaps the answer is in the April draft. Most draft-niks expect Grigson to invest the Colts’ first-round pick – No. 18 overall – in a top offensive tackle or pass rusher. That might even be the marching orders in the top three rounds.

But at some point, the Colts’ attention might turn to running back.

“There’s a lot of good backs that you can get as in Vick Ballard,’’ Grigson said.

The Colts selected Ballard in the fifth round in 2012, and he led them in rushing as a rookie with 814 yards before injuries ended his stint with the team.

Grigson seemingly left the door ajar for using a higher pick on a running back.

“There’s those elite backs that are going to be in this draft,’’ he said. “You have an elite back that’s in your midst (and) that’s hard to pass on sometimes as well.’’

Imagine the Colts being on the clock with the 18th overall pick and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott still being available. Long-time team executive Bill Polian compared Elliott with Edgerrin James, the Colts’ career rushing leader. And it was Polian who in 1999 paired a young running back (James) with a young quarterback (Peyton Manning).

Another “elite’’ prospect might be Derrick Henry, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama.

However the Colts solve their running game problem, it’s a must if Luck and the offense are to operate at an optimum level.

Consider these indisputable stats:

  • The Colts haven’t had a running back crack the 100-yard mark in 56 consecutive games, include the playoffs, or reach 1,000 yards since 2007. Each is the NFL’s longest active streak. The last 100-yard game: Ballard’s 105 yards at Houston in December 2012.
  • Since Luck’s arrival in 2012, a back has rushed for more than 78 in a game yards just 13 times. Gore accounted for five last season.

Not good enough.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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