INDIANAPOLIS – The intriguing combination expected to be a cornerstone of the Indianapolis Colts’ 2020 offense was delayed, but is back.
Only the rotational projection has changed.
Heading into last season, it was Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor with healthy doses of Nyheim Hines.
Now, it’s Taylor and Mack, with Hines again representing the big-play wild card.
“This is going to be crazy because once one guy gets hot, it don’t stop ‘cause the next guy’s going to do the same thing and the next guy,’’ Mack said Wednesday during a Zoom conference call. “All of us have that one-play thing.
“We all going to take one play, and it’s going to pop and go for 60. Every team gotta be on their toes ‘cause we’ll keep running it. They’re got to be prepared for that.’’
That was the grand plan last September, remember?
Coach Frank Reich is committed to attacking defenses with a formidable run game and headed into the ’20 opener at Jacksonville with Mack, the seasoned pro coming off his first 1,000-yard season, and Taylor, the much-hyped second-round draft pick.
The “one-one punch’’ lasted less than one half. Mack’s fourth season with the team ended when he tore his right Achilles tendon in the second quarter while making a move following a 3-yard pass from Philip Rivers. He immediately grabbed his lower right leg and had to be helped off the field.
After early-season struggles, Taylor went on to post one of the most prolific rookie seasons in team history. His 1,169 yards ranked 3rd in the NFL and 3rd in Colts’ history behind Edgerrin James (1,553 in 1999) and Marshall Faulk (1,282 in ‘94). His 11 rushing touchdowns were tied for the 2nd-most by a rookie (James 13 in ’99).
Mack? He stayed in Indy following his surgery to rehab and offer as much moral support as possible to Taylor, Hines and Jordan Wilkins.
The days and weeks following surgery were difficult
“The mental process was tough,’’ Mack said. “The first week it was tough, just testing, coming in and knowing you’re not going to be able to go on the field again for a while.
“But actually me keeping going in the building helped me out, and talking with the guys each and every week, that helped me a bunch because if I was just sitting at home and not seeing the guys in the training room or the guys keeping my hopes up, it would’ve been pretty hard one me.’’
Mack also had to be wondering what the future held. Not only was he watching Taylor blossom into a bona fide top-tier running back, but the 2017 fourth-round draft pick was in the final year of his rookie contract.
Free agency loomed at the wrong time.
While Mack’s long-term future remains uncertain, the short-term was taken care of when he signed a one-year, $2 million contract to remain with the Colts.
Other teams showed interest, but no one was willing to sign Mack as its projected starter. His rehab made that problematic.
“Indy was always the place I wanted to come back to,’’ he said. “It was just being patient out there, listen to what teams have for me, and Indy was the best for me.’’
Mack insisted he’s “in a good spot’’ with his rehab, but wasn’t able to provide a definitive timeframe for when he’ll 100%.
“Just got to get back in the training room, and they’ll let me know,’’ he said. “But I’ve been killin’ it, man, these past few months.
“I just actually left Indy in the beginning of March. I’ve just got to head back, and I should be good to go pretty soon.’’
Then once again, the onus falls on Reich and first-time offensive coordinator Marcus Brady to maximize a loaded backfield.
The Colts’ commitment to the run under Reich is undeniable. Since his arrival in 2018, the run game ranks 10th in yards per game (121.8) and 8th in attempts (27.9).
The one-one punch is headed by young backs with 1,000-yard seasons on their resume – Mack had a career-best 1,091 in 2019 – and boosted by the ultra-versatile Hines, who’s coming off the best season of his career (862 yards from scrimmage, seven total TDs).
Mack set a franchise playoff record with 148 yards in a 2018 wild-card win at Houston while Taylor shattered James’ single-game mark of 219 yards with 253 against Jacksonville the regular-season wrap-up.
That loaded backfield, by the way, still is young. Mack is 25 and heading into his fifth season. Taylor is 22, Hines 24 and Wilkins 26.
Mack is confident Reich will find enough carries for everyone.
“I know it’s only one ball,’’ he said with a smile, “but those guys gonna take care of each one of us. We’re going to make it work.
“As long as we get to that one thing, that one main goal, man – that Super Bowl – I think we’re all going to be good and happy with it.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.