Coming out of Alabama in the spring of 2012, Trent Richardson was heralded as perhaps the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. The Cleveland Browns were inclined to agree, drafting him with the third-overall pick in the draft. Peterson was taken No. 7 five years earlier with the Vikings.
But things didn't work out with Cleveland, who dealt Richardson after just 17 games to Indianapolis for a first round pick next spring. Now, the 49ers' defense faces the prospects of a more balanced attack from Andrew Luck and company, who visit Candlestick and the San Francisco 49ers this week.
"He's a good runner," Patrick Willis said Thursday. "He's a tough, downhill and physical runner. We have to be ready to swarm him up."
Willis said he had not watched NFL film on Richardson prior to hearing about the trade Wednesday, but followed him during his SEC days collegiality.
"You don't know why Cleveland would let go of a guy like that," he said.
"He likes to fall forward, he doesn't tend to go backwards. He fights for that extra yard or two even after contact," Reid said. "We just have to get him down on the ground."
Richardson led AFC rookies in rushing in 2012, amassing 950 yards at 11 touchdowns while adding 367 receiving yards. His explosiveness, size and speed make him a unique running back. But for a team like San Francisco that's spent years going against Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, approaching a runner like Richardson isn't completely foreign.
Also in their favor is defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who held the same position at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh while current Colts' offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was coaching the quarterbacks. Fangio is familiar with the offensive scheme, although he noted it's likely changed since they were colleagues.
"(Hamilton's) background has been his last three years at Stanford and prior to that a lot of time with Norv Turner, who is the offensive coordinator at Cleveland. He's doing a lot of that stuff so, again that's carryover for Richardson coming in," Fangio said.
Since he began breaking down Richardson's film Wednesday after first learning of the trade during the afternoon practice, Fangio noticed the Colts' running attack is very similar to the one used in Cleveland, which would expedite Richardson's transition.
"This guy's ready to go, so I expect him to play a bunch on Sunday," Fangio said.
Since Luck's arrival last year, Indianapolis has struggled in pass protection. He's been sacked 48 times in 18 regular season games, which is the third-most in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. Much that responsibility falls on the offensive line, but the Colts have gotten very little help in protection from running backs. That's an area where Richardson could make an instant impact.
"We did not bring him in here to be the water boy," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said in Thursday's media session. "He'll be ready to go, as much as he can handle."
"This guy is a rolling ball of butcher knives," Pagano added.
That being said, how will this 49ers' defense stack up?
Through two games, San Francisco has allowed rushing totals of 63 and 172 to Packers and Seahawks in the first two games. Last year, the team was the fourth-best against the run, yielding just 94 yards on the ground.
Coming into Sunday, the Colts will field the league's fifth-best rushing offense, averaging 130 yards through their first two weeks on five yards per carry. But they took a substantial hit when they lost Vick Ballard with a torn ACL in Week 1.
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