Taking Stock: Running Backs

Training Camp is a time for sound bites, optimism, upside, and analysis. Tony Dungy and Joseph Addai had some interesting things to say on how things are shaking out in the backfield in recent camp interviews.

TONY DUNGY:

On what it is like having RB Dominic Rhodes back with the team:

"It's been fun. He's one of the guys that you enjoy being around. I think our players enjoy him, and he's looking forward this year. It's been good to have him."

On RBs Clifton Dawson, Mike Hart and Chad Simpson:

"They are doing well. Cliff was really a pleasant surprise for us last year and those guys are trying to catch him.  They bring some different things. Mike Hart, I can see why his college coaches fell in love with him. He does everything that you ask him to do 100 miles an hour and does it well. He's done some good things on punt coverage, on punt return.  He's done some good things in the pass protection and he runs hard. Chad Simpson is a guy that just has lightning speed and probably much like Dominic (Rhodes) when Dom came. I wasn't here, but just that burst of energy and that quickness, it's been very impressive. We do want to get those guys some runs and see how they do in a game."


Clifton Dawson
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Keller's Take: Obviously, Rhodes has been welcomed back with open arms, given the fact that Dungy is glad to have him back and that he referenced Rhodes when the question was regarding Dawson, Hart, and Simpson.

The other key is that there is no mention of Kenton Keith — although he mentions Keith in the next quote.  However, bringing up Rhodes when he wasn't brought up in the question and not bringing up Keith is something that, even subconsciously, could mean something to Keith's status.

The other part of the quote that jumps out is that Hart and Simpson are "trying to catch" Dawson, which either suggests that Dawson has the edge for the third spot, Keith is out of the picture, and Hart and Simpson are possibly in line to unseat him.

More likely, though, is that the three men mentioned by Dungy are fighting against Keith for the two roster spots left, assuming that the Colts keep four backs ... more on that in a moment.

On the importance of depth at RB:

"We saw it last year when we got guys a little bit banged up. Joe (Addai) got a little banged up and Kenton Keith did a great job, but we had games where Cliff Dawson, Luke Lawton, different guys filled in and played big roles. The more versatile guys you have, the more guys that you can count on, the better off you are."

Keller's Take: Lawton contributed a whopping five carries and four receptions, totaling 42 yards and a touchdown, so it wasn't as though he was the engine driving the offense.

Dawson, for as much as he's discussed by Dungy in these quotes, was not very active in 2007, either, with 30 total carries — Peyton Manning finished fourth on the team with 20 carries.

It's interesting to note, though, that Rhodes and Addai carried almost the entire load in the Super Bowl championship year, since Manning finished third on the team, this time with 23 carries, and the player that was next — and last — on the team was Ran Carthon with three carries.

Although it's always good to have options, the Colts obviously prefer to lean on one or two primary backs.  Both Addai and Rhodes are used to sharing the load and neither is a player that can take 30 carries per game.

But, the only man on the the roster has shown that they can shoulder a significant share of the carries is Keith, so it will be interesting to see if any injuries occur and how able Dawson, Hart, and Simpson will be able to step up.

The best thing that can happen for Keith is for someone outside of Addai and Rhodes to falter or get injured, thus swinging the door wide open for him.

On if blitz pickup is tough for RBs and TEs in the preseason:

"It is, because you've got the blitzers, they don't have to worry about anything. They really don't have to worry about containing the quarterback, they don't have to worry about the run, so they are coming full speed. We don't allow our guys to cut in that drill, so you really don't have a lot to slow the blitzers down. The backs and tight ends are at a disadvantage, but we want to make it tough for them early and see who can stand up to the heat. To be honest, that's where (RB) Clifton Dawson first caught our eye last year. He did a great job in that drill. (RB) Mike Hart did a good job this year. It's a drill that you find out a little bit, even if they aren't sure about the technique, you find out how competitive guys are."

Keller's Take:  Another mention of Hart, comparing him favorably to Dawson, who made the roster and stayed on throughout the course of last season.  If the Colts again keep four running backs as they did last season — provided they don't keep three quarterbacks and sacrifice that roster spot — then Hart has an excellent shot at making the roster and staying there.

That still begs the question: Who would get the ax in that scenario, Keith or Dawson?

JOSEPH ADDAI:

If he's learned anything from last year to make him better:


Addai takes a break during camp Tuesday
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

"I think the biggest thing this year is just being consistent. That's the good thing about football is that you can just come back. That's probably a goal of mine this year, just try and stay consistent."

On the competition between him and RB Dominic Rhodes:

"It's a competition with everybody. It's a competition, but a friendly competition because everyone wants to see everyone else do well. It's not bad as in ‘OK, I don't like this person,' but everybody is trying to help somebody out because the ultimate goal is to make the team better. Everybody wants to be the guy, but everyone is cheering for whoever is in there."

Keller's Take: It looks as though Addai is very comfortable with his spot in the pecking order.

He certainly seems to have learned a few things during his time in the league and he's adjusting rather well to the fact that the Colts signed Rhodes in the offseason, even though that signing will definitely diminish his touches.

When Addai shared time with Rhodes in 2006, Addai was the rookie and Rhodes was the established veteran.  Even though there is a history between Rhodes and the Colts, he is still the newly signed free agent and Addai is still the established starter.

What remains to be seen is how long both men will be able to reconcile themselves with the roles they are in.


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