Injuries depleting Colts’ running backs

Marlon Mack #25 of the Indianapolis Colts pushes off a tackle from Kevin Johnson #30 of the Houston Texans during the second half at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

WESTFIELD, Ind. – On what was a light Saturday afternoon of work for the Indianapolis Colts at Grand Park, running backs coach Tom Rathman took it to the extreme.

During positional drills, he was able to provide what amounted to hands-on training with his group – we use that term loosely – of healthy backs. That group numbered three: veteran journeyman Christine Michael and rookies Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins.

They matched the number of their injured colleagues: Marlon Mack (hamstring), Robert Turbin (ankle) and Josh Ferguson (injury unknown). Ferguson might return to practice later this week.

At some point during practice it was worth wondering if Rathman might suit up. He’s 55, but clearly he knows how to handle himself in the backfield following a 9-year playing career, the first 8 with San Francisco, that generated 2,020 rushing yards, 26 touchdowns and a pair of Super Bowl championships.

“I know he’s still tough enough to play, that’s for sure,’’ coach Frank Reich said with a smile.

Wilkins, 24, was 5 months old when Rathman played the last of his 131 NFL games – Dec. 18, 1994 with Oakland against Kansas City – but a smile crept across his face when asked if he’d like to see his coach take a couple of handoffs in practice.

“I would like to see that,’’ he said. “The defense probably wouldn’t.’’

All joking aside, the Colts’ running back situation isn’t a laughing matter. Mack and Turbin, each injured in Thursday’s preseason opener at Seattle, are “week-to-week,’’ according to Reich, so being short-handed should only be a short-term issue. Turbin’s long-term status, remember, includes missing the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.

The perilously thin nature of the position shouldn’t be casually dismissed.

“You don’t like that,’’ Reich admitted.

The Colts are expected to be in full-go practice mode on six of the next seven days – players have Wednesday off – and that includes joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens Friday and Saturday. Asking three running backs to do all the work is, at the very least, harsh.

Reich didn’t rule out the Colts signing another running back.

“We’re always looking,’’ he said. “We’ll see how things play out.’’

Until a free agent is added or one of the injured backs is cleared for practice, it’s Hines, Jordan and Michael.

“It’s always an opportunity for other guys to get a lot of reps and show what they can do,’’ Reich said, adding the coaching staff might alter its offensive formations to reflect the lack of depth at the position.

That’s especially true with Hines, a fourth-round draft pick, and Wilkins, a fifth-rounder.

“They’re getting a lot of reps,’’ Reich said. “I think they’re taking advantage of it. Really gives them a good chance to kind of learn the offense (and) it gives us a chance to see them and how they can handle the wear and tear.’’

The extra reps might prove invaluable to Hines. After piecing together two solid weeks of camp, he’s facing some adversity. He bobbled two punt-return attempts against the Seahawks and dropped a couple of passes in Saturday’s practice.

“Every dog has his day,’’ Hines said with a sigh. “Thursday wasn’t my day and – I tried to get over it – and today wasn’t my day. It’s how you rebound from it.’’

The extra work this week, he added, is “definitely a plus, especially being a rookie. If I’m going to make this team, I have to earn my way.’’


You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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