Colts’ Robert Turbin: doing a lot with a little

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Robert Turbin #33 of the Indianapolis Colts carries the ball as Benardrick McKinney #55 of the Houston Texans makes the tackle in the first quarter at NRG Stadium on October 16, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Robert Turbin’s first season with the Indianapolis Colts has been one of quality over quantity.

The veteran running back has done a lot with a little, more than most.

“You ultimately want to do whatever is going to help the team win,’’ Turbin said. “Guys want to start and all that kind of stuff.

“But at the end of the day, if you’re winning games and you’ve got a role and you’re part of helping a team win, that’s more important than what you want as an individual.’’

The Colts signed Turbin to a one-year, $760,000 free-agent contract in March to serve as Frank Gore’s backup. He would offer an occasional breather during the course of a game, a change-of-pace option.

But Turbin has emerged as so much more.

In an NFL that’s built on star power, he’s the ultimate role player. Few have been as efficient in third-down, short-yardage and goal-line situations as Turbin.

“He has totally embraced that role, as protector, as a third-down back,’’ quarterback Andrew Luck said. “He’s not going to get as many touches as a Frank or a starting running back, but those touches are damn efficient.

“It seems like every time he’s touching the ball, it’s a touchdown or a first down or a screen that goes for a first down or a big play.’’

Not every time, but often enough that no one should underestimate Turbin’s value to the NFL’s No. 11-ranked offense. Consider:

  • He’s tacked up six rushing touchdowns on just 38 carries. Eighty players have more carries than Turbin, but only 15 have more rushing TDs. The closest to him in TDs/rush attempts: quarterbacks Dak Prescott of Dallas (6/52) and Tyrod Taylor of Buffalo (6/83) and Buffalo running back Mike Gillislee (7/75).
  • To add bite to Turbin’s six rushing TDs, he had one in his first four seasons and 58 games. The last Colt to have more than six rushing TDs in a season: Joseph Addai with 10 in 2009. The Colts had six as a team a year ago, all by Gore.
  • He’s generated first downs on 13 of his 38 rushing attempts and seven of his career-high 22 receptions. We’ll save you the math – he’s produced a first down on 30 percent of his “touches.’’ Turbin has converted third-and-1 three times.

“I think efficiency is a good word,’’ offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said.

Turbin has been on the field for less than 28 percent of the offensive snaps (248 of 903), although the coaching staff determined around midseason that Turbin, not rookie Josh Ferguson, was the better situational option.

“He brings a real attitude,’’ Chudzinski said. “He brings a professionalism, a seriousness in his approach that I think has allowed him to excel and get better.’’

Turbin’s tenacity was on display in Sunday’s blowout win against the Minnesota Vikings. On his second TD run of the game, a 6-yarder in the second quarter, he took a pitch from Luck and headed right before cutting back to his left. Turbin eluded the tackle efforts of at least four Vikings, including end Everson Griffen twice and safety Andrew Sendejo at the goal line.

Luck was impressed.

“Fantastic run, a highlight-reel run,’’ he said.

Turbin realizes his game-to-game opportunities are limited, and it’s on him to make the most of them.

“Absolutely,’’ he said. “Those are key situations in the game: third down, short yardage. Those are small plays that can turn into bigger plays.

“I’m thankful to be trusted in those times. I’ve embraced it. I’m just happy to be a part of the team.’’

So is Luck. Again, there can only be so many so-called stars. Role players help form the fabric of a team.

“Understanding your role and doing your role to the best of your ability is a big part of a team,’’ Luck said. “There is one starting running back. It’s Frank Gore. There’s no joke. There’s one T.Y. (Hilton). He’s the stud wide receiver and Donte (Moncrief) does his role incredibly well. He’s a stud as well.

“Turbo has really grasped the role and done a great job.’’

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