Colts running game hoping to find daylight despite streaks
ANDERSON, IND. >> The moment Colts running backs coach Jemal Singleton hears the word "numbers," he winces and shakes his head.
He knows what's coming next: A question about Indy's seemingly endless running woes.
Yes, again, the Colts enter a season trying to prove they can run the ball efficiently and effectively enough to end their long streak without a 1,000-yard rusher and another incredible drought without a 100-yard game.
"Of course, we're aware of it," said Singleton, who is in his first NFL season. "It's really a challenge as a group."
The challenge has been years in the making.
Even after the Colts took Andrew Luck with the top overall draft pick in 2012, coach Chuck Pagano expressed a desire to create a balanced offense to help alleviate the burden on his quarterback. But Indy has never really come close to Pagano's goal.
Indy has thrown for 72.8 percent of its total yards and scored nearly 75 percent of its offensive touchdowns through the air over the past four seasons. On the ground, the Colts have had a different rushing leader in each of Luck's first four seasons and the only one still around is 33-year-old Frank Gore.
Since Joseph Addai ran for 1,072 yards in 2007, only one Indy player has topped the 850-yard mark. And nobody is more frustrated with all the talk than Gore, who finished last season with 967 yards behind one of the league's poorest offensive lines.
"I'm not going to be over it until I do it," Gore said after falling just short of a fifth straight 1,000-yard season. "I've been blessed they kept me to get the opportunity to do it again, to go after my goals again, to be the one to get the 100 yards that they didn't have in years, to get that 1,000-plus yards, to have the opportunity when it's playoff time, when it's time to get down and dirty."
Only one team, New Orleans, has gone longer without a 1,000-yard runner. Deuce McAlister last did it in 2006.
Miami's 17-year streak from 1979-95 is the longest since the AFL-NFL merger, though the Saints are already in the top 10 and the Colts will join them there if they fall short in 2016.
The more telling stat may be that the Colts have had only one 100-yard game since the Luck era began: Vick Ballard's 105-yard performance Houston on Dec. 16, 2012. That 50-game drought is tied for No. 5 since 1960 and is the longest since Cincinnati ended a 67-game streak in 1997.
But Indy didn't exactly spend much time or money stocking the backfield during the offseason.
While they kept Gore and signed free agent power backs Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman, the only other significant addition might be Josh Ferguson, an undrafted rookie. The Colts also avoided the temptation of revamping their offensive line through free agency and instead used four of their eight draft picks on offensive linemen, including center Ryan Kelly, the No. 18 pick overall.
Luck believes those changes and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's new system will finally get the Colts' running game off the ground in 2016.
"Why does it need to be better? A balanced offense, I think, is a more potent offense and gives us a better chance to put points on the board," Luck said. "Why will it be better? Because we're going to work at it."
Again, Pagano again is emphasizing the need for a stronger ground game at training camp.
The Colts look like they have already decided to have Gore line up behind a line consisting of Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Jack Mewhort at left guard, Kelly, Denzelle Good at right guard and Joe Reitz at right tackle.
If the injured Kelly returns from an injured left shoulder and plays Sunday night against Green Bay, the annual Hall of Fame game could be Indy's first real glimpse of this new-look offense.
But the Colts have focused more on cleaning up the errors than running the numbers.
"Whether we have a 1,000-yard rusher or a 100-yard rusher, that's not what matters," Singleton said. "The only number that really matters is whether you win the game."
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