Vick Ballard hopes he can stay healthy wearing a No. 26 jersey as opposed to No. 33.
The older number was unlucky to say the least.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Ballard was a humble, hard-working Indianapolis Colts rookie, perhaps remembered most for flying through the air with an inverted leap to the end-zone pylon to score a game-winning touchdown in overtime at Tennessee.
Alas, that TD was in 2012. He started the last 12 games that season as well as the lone playoff game.
And he’s been humbled ever since.
Ballard has played one game the past two seasons. He was lost after the 2013 season opener to an anterior cruciate ligament tear. After working so hard to make it back, he tore an Achilles tendon in training camp and missed the entire 2014 season.
So, yeah, good riddance to No. 33.
“I never really liked 33,” he said Wednesday, surrounded by media in the locker room during a break from offseason training activities. “I wore 26 in high school, one year in college, so I kind of look at it as a fresh start, too.”
Ballard is just 24 years old, so having a young body should help in his comeback from two serious injuries. That said, the former fifth-round pick out of Mississippi State acknowledges it’s been a long road back.
Both were non-contact injuries, although doctors who specialize in knee injuries advise that a player who tears an ACL is often more likely to suffer another injury because much of the training and rehabilitation is focused on the initial setback.
Ballard, who rushed for 814 yards and two touchdowns as well as catching that TD pass against the Titans in 2012, assures he’ll be 100 percent come training camp.
“Yeah, definitely man,” he said. “Training camp is a long time from now, so truth be told, I probably could participate now, but there’s no rush. Just trying to take my time with it.”
Because he’s been doing nothing but rehabilitation for two years, Ballard said there’s one upside to his situation.
“Like you guys say, a running back takes a beating,” he said. “I’m pretty fresh. Nothing hurts. That’s a positive, so (I) just have to get my strength back. That’s the main thing.”
The Colts have made offseason moves to shore up the backfield. They signed running back Frank Gore, San Francisco’s all-time leading rusher, to a three-year, $12-million contract. They also re-signed Dan Herron, a restricted free agent who finished last season as the starter.
Ballard presumably will be vying with Herron for backup snaps, should his body cooperate. But that’s how he entered the league, not as a starter but an understated guy just looking to contribute any way he can.
He’s still that same guy. When hurt, he politely declined interviews because he wasn’t apart of what his team was doing. He didn’t think it was his place to talk about anything. Ballard is a big believer in the old adage that “talk is cheap.”
He knows he’s got something to prove this season. But through his setbacks, he’s already shown a lot to general manager Ryan Grigson.
“Vick’s a tough guy. He’s been through a lot,” Grigson said Thursday. “Two years is a long time not to play football. There’s no doubt about it. I think his body is going to be healed. I just talked to him in the locker room the other day, I bumped into him, I think the only thing he needs to do is just get a mindset to have a devil-may-care mindset. Because if you think about getting hurt or you’re concerned about getting hurt again, then you probably will.
“That’s something where the mental toughness, and he’s a tough kid, that’s where mental toughness comes into play I think and just mental discipline. Then once your body starts feeling a certain way, then you gain that confidence, too. You can’t feel like you’re ready to play in this league if you’re not ready. You have to be at a peak physical level. If you know you’re not right, you’re not going to be able to go out there and perform.”
The team boss said the challenge, at some point, becomes more mental than physical.
“I would think so,” Grigson said. “I’m not some sort of guru in that respect of mental and physical things that doctors can figure out. But I know from being hurt myself, you have to go out there and test it. I think when you go out there in training camp or in a preseason game and you just go out there and play and you get out of the game and you’re like, ‘Dang, I feel like myself again,’ then you build that kind of inner-equity as a player. Then you have less and less concern with each rep.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.