Uncertainty abounds at running back

Trent Richardson might be on the way out, Vick Ballard is mending from surgery and the Colts say they are looking at all options at running back as free agency and the draft near.

Trent Richardson appears to be on the way out the door based on what the Indianapolis Colts aren’t saying about the underachieving running back.

Neither general manager Ryan Grigson nor head coach Chuck Pagano would mention Richardson by name when asked about him or the running back situation during last week’s NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The third overall selection in 2012’s draft is currently suspended by the team for the 2015 season opener, although most speculation has the Colts cutting him and saving $3.184 million in salary cap space. Such a move will assuredly prompt the NFL Players Association to file a grievance on Richardson’s behalf in what could become an ugly dispute over whether he should be paid the final year of his rookie contract.

While the reasons for Richardson missing a team walk-through practice before the AFC Championship Game are somewhat unclear — one report had him rushing his pregnant girlfriend to the hospital — it’s clear the Colts had soured on him late in the season. He was inactive for the AFC Divisional playoff victory at Denver, after which he vowed it would never happen again. But after missing the walk-through, he was inactive for the title game at New England and the team announced later that he had been suspended.

Acquired two years ago for a 2014 first-round draft pick from Cleveland, Richardson averaged just 2.9 yards per carry in 2013 and 3.3 yards per carry last season. Running backs Ahmad Bradshaw, Dan Herron and Donald Brown each put up better numbers, the latter in his final season with the team in 2013.

Asked Richardson’s future with the team last week, Grigson spoke in general terms, alluding to the recent roster decisions to release safety LaRon Landry, offensive tackle Xavier Nixon and linebacker Andrew Jackson. All three had blemishes on their record. Landry was suspended four games last season for violating the league policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Nixon missed the team flight and was inactive for the AFC title game. Jackson was arrested for the second time in seven months for driving while under the influence.

“This time of year, like any time of year, is fluid,” Grigson said. “The roster is fluid. As you’ve noticed, we’ve been making cuts. We will be adding players with the 90-man roster what it is. There’s lots of room. We are continually making those decisions. We will be making more decisions after what we see this week at the Combine and what is developing in free agency, after you have your targets and have those meetings and see which ones are actually viable to get.”

Asked a follow-up question about Richardson’s diminished role at season’s end and his suspension and if he had a future with the Colts, Grigson said. “Those are team decisions and we have those in-house. We’ll look at everything.”

If the Colts intend to release Richardson, it’s uncertain why that hasn’t happened.

Pagano was asked about the running back situation as well as Vick Ballard, who is rehabilitating from a second consecutive season-ending injury, during the coach's visit to the combine lectern.

Like Grigson, Pagano never mentioned Richardson by name. Just months earlier, the coach had been insistent when asked repeatedly by the media that Richardson was continuing to play because, “He’s our starting running back.” But that eventually changed.

“Vick’s doing well,” Pagano said. “He’s going through rehab right now. He’s on schedule. Again, I always defer to the docs when it comes to that stuff. He’s been working his tail off. Like I said, he’s on schedule. When the doctors say he’s 100 percent and ready to roll, then we’ll get him back on the field. When that is, I don’t know.

“Like any other position, we’re going to take a hard look at that position. Obviously there’s going to be a bunch of guys here that we’re going to evaluate, guys in free agency that we’ll evaluate. The roster is obviously very, very fluid. Along with that position and all the other positions, we’ll continue to evaluate moving forward. As far as having a workhorse, a bell cow, what have you, you’d love to have that one guy, but if you have to have a tandem or trio, if you will, of backs. I think we were fortunate this year to have the guys that we had. Guys like ‘Boom’ Herron that came in and were productive for us, guys that stepped in when we needed the ‘next man up’ type of deal. That’s kind of where we’re at with that.”

Herron is a restricted free agent and it’s unknown if the Colts will tender him an offer, although it makes sense because he won’t be expensive.

Ahmad Bradshaw was the Colts’ best back last season, scoring eight touchdowns, but he suffered a season-ending leg injury in the 10th game. It was the second consecutive season he ended up on IR, lasting just three games in 2013. He’s about to become a free agent and his recent arrest for marijuana possession casts serious doubt on the team re-signing him.

The upcoming NFL Draft appears to be deep at the position with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Miami’s Duke Johnson, Northern Iowa’s David Johnson, Minnesota’s David Cobb, Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, among others.

Coleman said at the combine that he had spoken to the Colts once and expected a second interview.

The Colts ranked 22nd in rushing offense at 100.8 yards per game and tied for 22nd at 3.9 yards per attempt last season.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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