Frank Gore gave his 33-year-old body more rest than usual this offseason and the Indianapolis Colts had their running back take it easy during offseason training activities.
It’s all about coaxing the most out of Gore in a 12th NFL season. Question is, how much does he have left?
He’s well aware of how the NFL is typically unkind to runners his age. The last back to gain 1,000 yards at his age was 35-year-old John Riggins in 1984. Just three backs have ever hit that 1,000-yard mark at Gore’s age or older, the other two Franco Harris and John Henry Johnson.
But make no mistake, Gore is motivated for 2016. He still has a bitter taste in his mouth after his first Colts season produced 967 rushing yards. Instead of proving he could be the missing link in a Colts offense in need of a steady run game, Gore was written off by many as not being the same player. The most glaring indictment of the Colts rushing attack is a dubious streak without a 100-yard rusher that has now reached 50 regular-season games, 56 counting the playoffs.
“I’m not over it,” Gore said of just missing 1,000 yards. “I’m not going to be over it until I do it. I’ve been blessed that they kept me to get the opportunity to do it again. To go after my goals again, to be the one to get the 100 yards that they didn’t have in years. To get that 1,000-plus yards (in a season). To have the opportunity when it’s playoff time when it’s time to get down and dirty and we’ve got to run the ball when key plays happen. Now I got another opportunity to do it so from here on out I just have to start taking care of my body, eating healthy, start training to get myself ready to try to go get it.”
He arrived last offseason along with Miami buddy Andre Johnson, but the wide receiver was a disappointment and released. Now Gore goes it alone, hell-bent on proving he’s still a capable back who was San Francisco’s all-time rushing leader. He returns with 12,040 career yards.
The Colts used four of their eight draft picks on offensive linemen. That was to ensure better protection for quarterback Andrew Luck, who suffered the first serious injuries of his career and missed nine games last season. But it was also to add some new blood to a line that must create more space for Gore to do what he can do.
Skeptical critics cite Gore’s age and how he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry, the lowest total of his career. But he still showed what he could do at times when given room to run — he ran for 85 yards and 5.7 per carry in a next-to-last game win at Miami.
The Colts’ commitment to bolstering the O-line obviously resonated with No. 23.
“I would say it’s great because just to have depth and compete,” he said. “I feel like everybody should have depth and compete at their position. The more people you got, the hungrier that person should be. The guys from last year and adding the new young guys, training camp time, the best man should win. If you love this game, you’re going to step up and that will be better for us as a team.”
Asked about Gore being rested during OTAs, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano assured he’s confident his go-to back will be ready when the time comes.
“Yeah, Frank is a pro and he’ll have himself ready for training camp,” Pagano said. “He’ll continue to get himself ready through the course of training camp and the preseason. We’ll be smart with Frank. Frank has got a lot left in the tank.
“Say what we want to say, there were a lot of injuries, there were a lot of circumstances and a lot of things that happened that whatever the numbers were, I don’t really care, because they don’t matter right now. All that matters is moving forward and so just excited to see him back out on the grass come training camp time. As we get better in a lot of other areas and continue to improve, our numbers across the board will improve.”
Gore’s motivation is still the same. He and Johnson chose the Colts because they were convinced this team gave them the best chance at an elusive Super Bowl ring.
“That’s number one,” Gore said. “When you play a team sport and you play this game, I’ve been blessed to get yards and being mentioned among top guys at my position, but I haven’t yet got what everybody wants when they play this game and that’s a ring. That’s what motivates me.”
Rob Chudzinski was retained as offensive coordinator and has implemented his new playbook. The Colts faltered to 8-8 without Luck and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011. “Chud” has outlined an attack that will take advantage of Luck’s mobility and passing skills, but one that demands a running game to keep defenses honest.
“That was tough, especially with the talent we had,” Gore said of how last season ended. “But that’s football. A lot of things didn’t go our way starting with our leader Andrew (Luck) being hurt and that was big. Hopefully we just got to stay humble, keep working and try to get better each day.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.