Colts to keep Frank Gore on a play count

Head coach Chuck Pagano says running back's carries will be monitored 'very closely' in Sunday season opener at Buffalo.

Frank Gore doesn't prefer to be handled with care, but Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano intends to keep his running back on a play count in Sunday’s season opener at Buffalo.

How closely will Pagano monitor the 32-year-old rusher’s workload?

“Very closely and we’ve got to be smart with the amount of carries,” Pagano said Wednesday.

“He’s going to want to play every snap. If we play 80 plays, he’s going to want to be in there 80 plays. I think we all know that we can’t do that. We need him. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. So we’ve got him on a pitch count and we’re going to stick to it.”

Gore averaged 267 carries for 1,164 yards in his final four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, for whom he set a franchise record with 11,073 career rushing yards. He had at least 200 carries in nine of his 10 years with the 49ers, the lone exception his rookie season.

In preseason with the Colts, he ran just twice for 10 yards, which was fine by him.

If Gore has an issue with not getting too many carries against the Bills, he’s not saying so.

“He’s the coach,” Gore said. “Whenever they call my number, I just want to be ready and help my team.”

When the 5-9, 217-pound back signed a three-year, $12-million contract with the Colts in March, he joined the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense led by three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck. Gore saw an opportunity to provide a missing link to a new team and in the process have an opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl contender.

While he’s bucking the trend for running back production north of 30 years of age, it’s obvious Pagano doesn’t want him to be too much of a workhorse. His old Miami Hurricanes teammate, wide receiver Andre Johnson, joined him in Indy to add more firepower to an explosive offense.

The reality should be that Gore will find running lanes in such a prolific passing offense. How many carries he gets in the process will be difficult to gauge, at least early on.

“We got a great quarterback, great receivers and great tight ends,” he said. “We got a great group of guys in the backfield. As long as we’re on the same page and go out there and play as one, I think we can do whatever we want.”

Who backs him up could be a game-time decision. The Colts lost backup Dan Herron to a season-ending shoulder injury in the final preseason game. The new listed backup, Vick Ballard, hasn’t practiced this week due to a hamstring strain. The fourth-year pro is coming off back-to-back seasons on injured reserve and it’s the second time he’s tweaked his hamstring.

If Ballard can’t go, Gore will relinquish carries to either rookie Josh Robinson, a sixth-round pick, or rookie Tyler Varga, an undrafted rookie.

While the Bills will be without All-Pro defensive tackle Marcell Dareus due to a one-game suspension, Buffalo’s defense still presents a formidable challenge. New head coach Rex Ryan is noted for dialing up aggressive defenses.

“They got a great defense, especially their front seven,” Gore said. “Like I said, new head coach who is great at calling defensive plays and has done a lot of crazy things. It will show us where we’re at.”

As far as where Gore has landed in the NFL, he assures he’s settled in just fine.

 “I’m cool now,” he said. “During preseason, the first preseason game we played Philly, it felt different. Seeing a blue jersey and knowing how game day and what to expect from the team in the locker room. But now, I’m comfortable now. Been in four games in the locker room before games, so I’m good.

“I’m ready and happy. I’m ready to start my new journey of my career.”

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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