Position Battle: Offensive Backs

Even though there's no chance that this is the year Jim Sorgi beats out Peyton Manning for the top quarterback job, there are a number of intriguing battles happening at running back. How will they shake out? Brad Keller has an early analysis here.

The first two spots at quarterback are locked in and have been since last offseason, or perhaps even the 2005 offseason. Barring injury, Peyton Manning will take nearly every snap and start every game as he has since his rookie year and Jim Sorgi will dutifully carry the clipboard and take care of spot duty at the end of blowout victories and any meaningless games in which it makes sense to keep Manning on the sidelines.

Josh Betts, who has spent the past two seasons on the practice squad, should again act as the emergency third quarterback and not tie up a roster spot for a team whose starter has lined up for 160 consecutive regular season contests.

This could be the year that Betts is unseated as the third stringer, as the Colts brought in rookie free agent Adam Tafralis of San Jose State, but Betts has successfully staved off competition for the past two offseasons, knows the offense, and should be too valuable for Indianapolis to discharge, provided Tafralis doesn't do anything to wow the coaching staff.

However, the Colts front office will have a decision to make in September — whether to place Betts on waivers and hope that he is not claimed by another team, or whether to use a roster spot on him for a few days, then allocate him to the practice squad.


Clifton Dawson doesn't want to be the odd man out when the preseason ends
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Behind starter Joseph Addai, a serious battle is likely to be waged for the three remaining running back roster spots, assuming the team keeps four running backs, as it did throughout the 2007 season.  And, since Luke Lawton was recently traded to the Eagles for a conditional pick in the 2009 draft, only Kenton Keith and Clifton Dawson return.

Where the competition heats up directly relates to what the Colts did in the offseason — adding Dominic Rhodes and sixth-round selection Mike Hart of Michigan.

Dawson and Keith both had moments where they flashed talent and ability last season, but both also had moments where they showed why they were unable to crack the starting lineup, with Dawson breaking slow to the hole on a number of occasions, and Keith being displaying a pass-catching ability that was unreliable at best.

Given his familiarity with the offense, hands, pass-blocking ability, and the fact that he showed he can unselfishly share the load with Addai, Rhodes is a virtual lock to win the top backup job.

Rhodes has grown considerably in the passing game since his days as an undrafted rookie free agent and can be trusted to protect Manning and act as a very capable safety valve when necessary.

What this boils down to is a four-man battle for two roster spots — Justise Hairston spent considerable time on the practice squad last season and knows he has a legitimate shot at securing a spot on the roster. However, Hairston was placed on waivers Wednesday, so there's a chance he could be with a different team by the time training camp rolls around. It would be easy to hand the remaining two spots to Hart and Keith, but it would also be naive.


Mike Hart could be the steal of the draft — or a practice squad player
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Keith certainly has his detractors in the Colts fan base and there is a reason that Hart lasted until the end of the sixth round — while he proved that he can handle a tremendous number of carries at Michigan, he did not play in the type of open, slashing offense that Indianapolis deploys, he was not heavily involved in the passing game, and he'll need to demonstrate blocking skills, as well. 

Meanwhile, Dawson and Hairston certainly look the part and have more upside and athletic ability than do Keith and Hart, but neither has been able to translate those skills to on-field success at the NFL level, otherwise they would be higher on the depth chart as well.

In the end, it will likely break down to the two men that displease the coaching staff least throughout minicamps, OTAs, and training camp for those final two slots.

Hairston and Hart are eligible for the practice squad, so at least one of them may find themselves there simply as a matter of eligibility, so it is entirely possible that Dawson and Keith again find themselves on the depth chart, just one rung down, since Rhodes would need to show up out of shape with amnesia to not be Addai's backup.

The Colts were basically able to just use Rhodes and Addai in 2006 and that worked out well for the team, but the possibility of facing a season with uncertainty behind those two men is not something that Indianapolis is looking forward to.

Everyone in camp will have every opportunity to separate themselves from the pack.  Here's hoping that at least one, and preferably two, of them does.


Colts Blitz Top Stories