During the 2012 preseason there will be certain players that we'll go back and specifically watch for during the games, trying to get a feel for who will help this team in 2012, and who needs to go home. Prior to the first preseason game against St. Louis, I shared eight players that I would be watching during the game, all eight of which will be reviewed extensively on Colts Authority, along with several other players. The previously reviewed players are listed here:
The Colts are a very thin team in 2012. Having jettisoned the majority of their veteran stars during the offseason, the Colts enter into the 2012 season with a huge amount of youth and unknown quantities throughout their roster. Many positions don't have proven talent, or even real potential, after the starters. Or, in the case of cornerbacks, the starters don't even have provent talent (outside of Jerraud Powers of course).
The running back position is a little different. Yes, there is no proven "workhorse back" on the roster. However, Donald Brown did prove last year that he can be effective as a rotational back, and expectations are high for him this season. Behind Brown there are questions, but one back who has looked like a possible solution this offseason is rookie running back Vick Ballard.
Ballard has had a very good start to preseason, getting a long look in both of the first two games. The Colts didn't talk about him much coming out of camp, in fact, most of the coach speak about Ballard (and Ballard's quotes himself) had to do with him playing special teams. But, Ballard has impressed in his first two games, and is likely looking at sharing time at running back this season, especially with Delone Carter and Mewelde Moore battling injury.
Here are my impressions from Ballard's second game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On Ballard's first carry of the night, the offensive line got an initial push, then the hole got filled by three Steeler defenders, Ballard took what the defense gave him, and plunged ahead for three yards. On his second carry, Seth Olsen got pushed back quickly, and his defender disengaged and dragged down Ballard for a two-yard loss.
Ballard's third run was his most impressive of the night, showing the agility to gain extra yards on the play. The OL blocked well on the play, getting the push and creating a hole for Ballard to gain at least five yards on the play. But, when the first defender (disengaging from Reggie Wayne's block) tried to take him down, Ballard executed a spin move around his teammate, and then stiff armed a diving defender to gain an extra seven yards on the play before getting knocked out of bounds.
Ballard's fourth carry was a classic "plow into the pile" run. Personally, it looked like he had an open cut to the right side that would have had the possibility for more yards, but it's just one play.
On the next series, Ballard showed nice vision and determination, finding a small opening that he could push through and chug through defenders for a nice eight yard gain. On first-and-goal it was a similar play, as Ballard bounced off defenders, always moving forward, in a similar fashion for six yards. On second-and-goal, Ballard tried to dive over the pile but was stopped cold at the line of scrimmage and knocked backwards. I'm not a fan over the pile, as I think it leaves you open for turnovers to try and go airborne, so I wasn't a fan of the decision. On third down, they went with Ballard again, who was stopped just short of the goalline. I would have wanted him to keep his knees up on the play, as he really only had to push through one linebacker. While the play shouldn't have been overturned (video evidence wasn't there), it wasn't a great play by Ballard.
After halftime, Ballard was in again, and had a carry on the first play. This time he did bounce it outside, and went around the edge for a nice five yard run. Second down was another "plow ahead" run, gaining a yard. There wasn't a lane to bounce it outside on this one, however, as Jeff Linkenbach had gotten turned a bit, and the defensive end/OLB would have had Ballard in a heartbeat.
As far as pass protection goes, Ballard was only kept back on a couple plays, and only one did he have to block anybody. On a play in the first half, Ballard was faced with a blitzing linbacker, and read the blitz just fine. However, his block was poor technique and he got knocked off his balance right away. Fortunately, Luck had a very quick release on the play, and it didn't affect him. But, if Luck had held onto the ball for any period of time, Ballard likely would have given up pressure on the play. The good thing, was that Ballard wasn't afraid to hit the linebacker, he just needs to improve his strength and technique.
Overall, Ballard had a very good night. On a couple of runs, especially at the goal line, I would have liked to see better decisions/running, but overall he impressed with tough running and his ability to find space to fall forward. He likely won't have the speed and explosiveness of Brown, but he does have the agility to gain extra yards on plays, exemplified by his 12 yard run.
He's a rookie, and will make some mistakes, but Ballard has showed impressive instincts and toughness so far.