When it comes to talking about the Indianapolis Colts’ 2012 rookie class, running back Vick Ballard may get lost in the conversation.
After all, quarterback Andrew Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill get most of the attention. And for good reason. They’re all talented and are being counted on to be valuable contributors this season.
But Ballard, the Colts’ fifth-round pick, is also quickly making a name for himself. The former Mississippi State running back quickly caught the eye of Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians during the team’s organized team activity workouts and mini-camps last spring — so much so that Arians offered up a somewhat startling comment, comparing Ballard to a young Edgerrin James.
Considering that James ended his seven-year Colts career (1999-2005) as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher with 9,226 yards and 64 rushing touchdowns (also a club career record), that’s pretty high praise.
“I didn’t know [Arians] said that,” a somewhat embarrassed Ballard said during training camp. “It’s an honor to be compared to somebody like that. [James] had a great career.”
A native of Pascagoula, Miss., Ballard began his collegiate career at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he earned first-team junior college All-America status as a sophomore.
After transferring to Mississippi State, he wound up starting 23 of 25 games and rushing for 2,157 yards and 29 touchdowns over two seasons. Ballard ran for a team-high 1,189 yards and 10 TDs as a collegiate senior.
Since coming to Indianapolis last April, he has battled veterans Donald Brown, Delone Carter, Darren Evans and Deji Karim for practice time. Right before the start of training camp, former Pittsburgh Steeler Mewelde Moore was added to the mix.
Ballard, though, has continued to impress. When Carter and Moore both went down with rib injuries in the Colts’ preseason-opening win over St. Louis, he received more practice time and playing time the following week.
In Sunday night’s 26-24 preseason loss at Pittsburgh, Ballard had a team-high 34 yards rushing in 10 attempts. Modest stats, to be sure, but it was how he picked up those yards, how he carried himself in the game.
One play in particular stood out. Early in the second quarter, Ballard took a handoff from Luck on a play that was designed to go inside. But with tacklers converging, he did a spin move in the hole and bounced the play outside for a 12-yard gain. Impressive.
“It all comes down to instinct. It wasn’t like I planned [to make the spin move] … I just know that I did it,” Ballard said earlier this week. “I went back and looked at the [game tape]. I saw there was a defender in the hole and spun out. I was just trying to make a positive play.”
Arians remains a big supporter.
“I love Vick. I think he’s shown that he has a lot of the tools to play every down. He’s running hard and he’s pass protected well. He’s got everything it takes to be a solid back in this league,” the Colts assistant coach praised.
“Just finding his niche [is the key]. One thing about injuries, [it’s] when you get an opportunity. And he’s done well with his opportunity.”
Colts coach Chuck Pagano also likes what he’s seen from his first-year running back so far.
“I think he’s ahead of the learning curve. He’s doing a great job in the running game and the pass game. The protection stuff is coming around on third down. But he’s a dynamic runner. He’s got make-miss ability. He’s strong. He gets extra yards,” Pagano said.
“I don’t think you ever see him go backwards. Even after first contact, he’s going to make people miss. He’s going to have a lot of yards after contact. Just because of the style of runner [that he is], he can jump cut and make a lot of guys miss. We can get a hat on almost everybody, but every now and then that guy [the running back] has to make somebody miss. And he’s got that ability. We’re really pleased with his progress to this point.”
• Plenty of tickets — Safety Antoine Bethea likes playing at Fed Ex Field, where the Washington Redskins play their home games.
Indianapolis and the Redskins will face off at 4 p.m. Saturday in the third preseason game for both teams. Fed Ex Field is located about two hours from Bethea’s hometown of Newport News, Va. He played collegiately at Howard University, which has its campus in downtown Washington. So anytime that the Colts play in the area, his ticket list and his phone call list get longer.
“I think I’ve got about 25 tickets lined up,” Bethea said Thursday. “By now, most of my friends and family have already gotten their tickets and paid for them themselves. So it’s not too bad.”
• Facing Garçon — In addition to the hype surrounding Saturday’s game of Luck facing off against Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, there’s the side story of the Colts meeting up with former Indianapolis receiver Pierre Garçon.
Garçon played 2008-11 for the Colts (catching 188 passes for 2,529 yards and 16 touchdowns) but left this past offseason. He signed a lucrative free-agent deal with Washington this past spring.
“We’ve talked a little bit [since Garçon left],” Bethea acknowledged Thursday. “I expect that we’ll talk a little bit [Saturday].”
And what happens if Garçon were cross his path during the game?
“I might give him a little bump here and there,” the veteran free safety said with a smile.