Ahmad Bradshaw Running Angry in Indianapolis
By Corbin Smith
The National Football League has always been a tough business, and that remains especially true at the running back position. While the NFL sometimes goes by the term "not for long" league, and the average career length for players lasts only four seasons, running backs have the toughest time holding onto jobs long-term. The game of football has transformed greatly in recent years as the league becomes more pass-oriented, teams move away from power running games, and the evolution of offenses has nearly eliminated the need for a true workhorse back.
In the case of Indianapolis Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw, he's one of those rare power backs who still has a chance to make plays on Sunday. Bradshaw, who serves as the grizzled veteran in the Colts' backfield at the elder age of 27, arrived in Indianapolis this summer with a chip on his shoulder. After six steady seasons with the New York Giants, the organization decided that his injury history and age concerns made him expendable and decided to give the starting role to David Wilson. He wanted to stay with the Giants and help the team pursue another Super Bowl title, but he couldn't persuade the team to re-sign him and ended up testing the free agent market.
During his time with the Giants, Bradshaw helped New York upset the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on two different occasions. While he only played a minor role as a rookie in the 2007 title campaign, his awkward last minute rushing touchdown in Super Bowl XLVI sealed the deal in a stunning comeback win and became his signature play. He only reached the century mark twice during his six seasons in New York, but injuries as well as competition for carries limited his output. Whether playing alongside Wilson or Brandon Jacobs or another back, he never received an opportunity to be a feature back.
As a running back quickly approaching the dreaded thirties and coming off of foot surgery, he received only mild interest from a few teams this summer. He continued to hope that the Giants would decide to bring him back, but that never came to fruition, and he remained unsigned as the calendar turned to June. The Colts decided to kick the tires on the veteran back in mid-June, and the team decided to sign him to a one-year contract after being satisfied by the progression of his surgically-repaired foot. Chuck Pagano wanted to bolster one of the NFL's worst rushing attacks from 2012 while also bringing championship experience to the roster, and Bradshaw matched both criteria.
He missed most of the preseason as he maintained a rigorous rehab schedule, and he managed to return to action for the Colts opener against the Oakland Raiders three weeks ago. So far, Bradshaw has not only been healthy, but he’s also enjoyed great success behind a rebuilt offensive line. This weekend, he turned in a vintage performance, as he rushed for 95 yards on 19 carries and bulldozed through a tough 49ers defense all afternoon, leaving him with 186 rushing yards and a 4.5 yards per carry average on the young season. The Giants, meanwhile, probably regret letting him walk, as New York ranks dead last in the league in rushing. During an unexpected 0-3 start, the Giants have only amassed 133 rushing yards total. That’s less than Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor has racked up by himself in three games!
When the Colts traded for Trent Richardson last week, many speculated Bradshaw would have a reduced role. However, Pagano has no intention of limiting carries for either player, especially considering how well Bradshaw played against the 49ers. The second year head coach plans to use them as a powerful tandem and bring much-needed balance to the offense. Richardson may have greater upside long-term for the franchise, but a running back by committee approach appears to be the team’s best option in 2013.
Many were surprised by Bradshaw’s success this past Sunday, but Pagano expected these types of performances from the seasoned ball carrier, and he remains optimistic that his new duo will make the Colts a much tougher offense for opponents to stop. He intends to continue splitting carries between the two workhorses barring injury, which will keep both players fresh and create more headaches for defensive coordinators.
When discussing Bradshaw’s impact on this weekend’s win at Candlestick, Pagano enthusiastically said, “He runs angry, as we always talk about. He prepares extremely hard. He just wants to win. He knows if he runs that way, he’s going to give our team the best opportunity to win. That’s just how he’s wired and that’s just in his DNA. He doesn’t know any different.”
Opponents expected the Colts to be an outstanding passing team with Andrew Luck leading the offense and a plethora of quality receivers at his disposal, but an angry, powerful rushing attack could transform this team into a contender. Sunday’s road victory showed great growth from the offensive line, and Richardson should only get better as he becomes more comfortable in a new offensive scheme. But Bradshaw’s long-term health and all-around game make him the real wild card. When healthy, he can be a force to reckon with, as the 49ers can attest to.
Ahmad Bradshaw left New York bitter about the breakup, but one team's trash can be another team's treasure. The Colts took a gamble signing him and received plenty of criticism from experts and the fan base alike.
Looks like Indianapolis may get the last laugh.