Colts training camp preview: Running backs

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Frank Gore. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The next step in the Indianapolis Colts’ bid to put an unfulfilling 2015 season behind them comes July 26 when they report to Anderson University for the start of training camp.

Over the next several days, we’ll take a positional look at how they’ve positioned themselves not only to challenge for the AFC South title, but a possible run at Super Bowl 51.

Today we focus on the running backs.

  • Starter: Frank Gore.
  • Projected backup: Robert Turbin.
  • Others: Jordan Todman, Tyler Varga, Josh Ferguson, Trey Williams.

The main man

So many question whether Gore still has the chops to be a legitimate feature back. He’s 33 and entering his 12th season. More to the point, his 2,702 career rushing attempts are the most by an active running back and rank No. 17 in NFL history. Clearly he’s on the downside of a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

But question Gore at your own peril, and prepare to duck.

Too old? Too worn down?

“I’ve been getting (those questions) my whole life,’’ he said. “I like it when they question me.’’

Gore was a regular participant in the Colts’ offseason program in Indianapolis, then ratcheted up his training in late June and this month in Florida. He’ll do his part, and no one should doubt his motivation.

While the offense regressed in 2015 under the leadership of three different starting quarterbacks and five under center overall, Gore paid the price by facing stacked fronts. Defenses showed little respect for a down-field passing threat. He failed to rush for at least 100 yards in a game for the first time in his career, failed to reach the 1,000-yard plateau (967) for just the second in 10 seasons and averaged a career-low 3.7 yards per attempt.

“I’m not over it,’’ Gore said of his sub-par season. “I’m not going to be over it until I do it. I’ve been blessed that they kept me to get the opportunity to do it again.’’

Help on the way?

A name worth monitoring as training camp unfolds – Josh Ferguson. He’s the quick rookie wearing No. 34. No one should be surprised if he finds a role in coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s offense.

Says who? Says owner Jim Irsay.

When recently addressing the team’s running back situation, Irsay noted that “Gore has to be managed, but he has another year. We do like some of the backs we’ve added. We think guys like Josh Ferguson have a chance to be special. Time will tell.’’

It’s risky business to draw conclusions from a team’s offseason workouts – the defense isn’t allowed to whack running backs and receivers, so everybody appears fast and elusive – but there’s no denying Ferguson brings speed and shiftiness to the offense. The undrafted free agent out of Illinois is 5-10, 200 pounds and a blur.

Chuck Pagano went deep in his cliché book to describe Ferguson.

“He’s very, very athletic,’’ he said. “He’s a great receiver out of the backfield. We can split him wide. We can displace him formationally. He’s a mismatch out in space. He’s got juice. He can go. He’s got great vision. Just not a third-down back, but he’s a good runner. He’s explosive and twitchy and he’s got a jump cut that’s really, really good.

“The rubber will meet the road when we get to Anderson and we put the pads on and see if that play speed is the same.’’

Ferguson flashed his versatility at Illinois. His 4,474 all-purpose yards rank No. 2 in school history. He rushed for 2,586 yards and 18 touchdowns and added 168 receptions, 1,507 yards and eight receiving TDs. The receptions and yards are school records for a running back.

Ferguson doesn’t view himself as a specialty player.

“I like to think I’m a guy that can be out there on any down, in any situation,’’ he said. “I hope to become a player who can do all things.’’

Worth noting

The odds and Father Time are working against Gore. He’s bidding to become the first player to rush for at least 1,000 yards after turning 33 since John Riggins, who rambled for 1,239 yards in 1984. He was 35.

And while we’re on the subject of numbers, we must remind you of a couple of others. The Colts haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2007 and haven’t had a back reach the 100-yard mark in a game since Vick Ballard at Houston in 2012, a stretch of 56 games, including the playoffs. Each is the NFL’s longest active streak.

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