Bye, Bye Ballard: Colts Lose Starting RB To Torn ACL
By Corbin Smith
"No one handles adversity quite like this team and locker room, so it's next man up," said Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano following the news that RB Vick Ballard will be placed on injured reserve.
Pagano and his team understand resiliency better than any team in the NFL. Just last season, Pagano missed most of the year battling Leukemia, and the much-heralded "Chuckstrong" campaign transformed into one of the league's best stories of 2012. In his absence, Bruce Arians led the Colts to an 11 win season and an unexpected playoff berth, and the embattled coach ended up conquering an even bigger challenge as he made it out of chemotherapy a healthy and reinvigorated man.
The Colts inspired millions last season, and the team won't fold up the tent after discovering that second-year RB Ballard will miss the remainder of the year with a torn right ACL. As Pagano said during his press conference this afternoon, players behind Ballard will be expected to step in and produce. This team has been built to handle anything thrown at it, but one thing remains clear: the Colts are a worse team this afternoon than they were this time yesterday.
Indianapolis has been plagued by poor rushing attacks for most of the past decade. Except for a few strong seasons from Edgerrin James, Peyton Manning typically had a mediocre run game behind him, and the lack of balance on offense may have played a critical role in preventing the team from winning more than one Super Bowl during his time with the Colts. Owner Jim Irsay opted to trade Manning last spring to make way for Andrew Luck, but the running game continued to be average at best last year.
Ballard led the team with 814 rushing yards in 2012, and while that statistic didn't rank highly on the league leaderboard, he quickly developed into a back that this team could count on. After a strong opening game against the Raiders last week, it looked like Indianapolis finally found the offensive balance that evaded the franchise during most of Manning's tenure. Pagano said all the right things during his press conference today, but Ballard may have been the 3rd most irreplaceable player on the Colts' offense behind Luck and receiver Reggie Wayne, and it won't be easy replacing his production.
Sure, general manager Ryan Grigson signed Ahmad Bradshaw during the offseason to add depth to the backfield, and Donald Brown has shown his first-round talents in spurts during prior seasons, but Bradshaw has a lengthy injury history battling chronic foot and ankle problems during his time with the New York Giants. He also missed most of the preseason and only recently has been healthy enough to suit up for action. Brown, on the other hand, never has lived up to expectations on a consistent basis and didn't even see the field against Oakland last week other than as a special teams player. If seeing those two guys as the Colts main running options seems like a scary proposition, welcome to the club.
Based on Bradshaw's injury history and Brown's ability to show promise for a few games before falling flat, the team should consider scanning the waiver wire to find insurance options. Pagano said the team plans to sign rookie Kerwynn Williams off of the practice squad as Ballard's replacement, and while he performed admirably during the preseason, he's probably not ready to be a regular contributor against starters in the National Football League. It'd be a major challenge for the Colts to sustain any semblance of a rushing presence if Williams ended up seeing the field on a consistent basis.
Chuck Pagano's team has become quite familiar with facing adversity, and that experience will help them transition to life without a key player. He wouldn't be doing his job if he stood at the podium and told the media and fans that his team was in trouble, but that could be the unfortunate reality of this situation. Injuries will always be part of the sport, and the game must go on. Regardless, losing Vick Ballard hurts this offense, no matter how the team spins it.