Hart Turning Heads

It was only one preseason game, but the Colts' sixth-round draft pick, running back Mike Hart, made a big impression on Tony Dungy with his performance against the Washington Redskins on Sunday night.

Hart didn't get a carry until the second half, but once the team called his number he made it count, taking his first NFL tote off right guard for 14 yards.

On the next play, the Colts handed the ball to Hart again, and he ran off the left side for a 19-yard gain. On the next play, he again went off the left side for a pickup of 11 yards.

Three carries, 44 yards. This NFL stuff must be easy, right?

Hart finished the game with four carries for 53 yards, good enough to lead the team. He also caught three passes for 28 yards.

"Mike ran and did everything in the game just about as he's done in practice, and it really wasn't surprising when you watch him practice and watch him work," Tony Dungy said Tuesday. "We felt he would have a good game and he did everything that he was called on to do. He had two pass protection pickups, he handled those well. He caught the ball out of the backfield and he ran and made people miss. That's probably what he's been doing for eight or nine years."

Sure, it was just one preseason game against Washington's second team, but if Hart can continue to carry his strong showing on the practice field onto the game field in the preseason, he could be in line to grab the third-strong running back position for the Colts and be another late-round draft steal for the team.


Mike Hart ran into the record books during his high school and college career
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Hart smashed records in high school — he has national records for TDs in a career (204), most consecutive 100-yard and career 100-yard games (47) and career points (1,246) — and at Michigan, where he's the school's all-time leader in yards and attempts. But because of his size (5-feet-9, 205 pounds) and speed (4.76 in the 40-yard dash) he saw his stock drop when draft time came around.

Scout.com ranked Hart as the 15th-best running back in the draft class, and NFL Lead Analyst Tom Marino said, "[Hart is a] tough I-back who consistently moved the chains inside. Is undersized (short but very thick) and does not have the necessary speed. Has done it at the highest level for his entire career showing natural run instincts ... A big concern is his work load (1,015 carries) over a four-year career ... [there are] only so many wars in a little man's body ... Second-day draft consideration."

The selection of Hart was almost universally praised at ColtPower after the draft, although not everyone was convinced he could make an impact, or even make, the team.

Dungy said Tuesday that in the draft process, teams sometimes get a little too caught up in measurables and don't always look at the player.

"That probably is the way to look at it. I saw in our clips that (Hart) has high school records and some Big Ten records. To start four years in the Big Ten and lead the state of New York in scoring in high school, there's probably a chance he's going to be OK. But we tend to throw out all that and say ‘if you're not this tall or this fast then you probably can't do it even though you've been doing it for your whole life.' I think that's probably the case."

Hart also reminds Dungy of a couple of players he's very high on. One is Warrick Dunn, who Dungy says Hart is "very, very similar" to Dunn, who Dungy drafted when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Like Hart, Dunn was undersized at 5-feet-9, 180 pounds. But that didn't stop Dungy from selecting him with the 12th pick in the 1997 NFL Draft.

Dungy said in his memoir, Quiet Strength, that after his first meeting with Dunn, "I left with the feeling this guy could be something special in the league. Coach [Chuck] Noll had always said to err on the side of production over looks, and Warrick certainly put that philosophy to the test."

Dungy was right about Dunn, who's been to three Pro Bowls and is one of just 22 players in NFL history to rush for over 10,000 yards. At age 33, Dunn is still getting it done, and is currently listed second on the Buccaneers' running back depth chart. Looks like there are plenty of wars in that little man's body.

The other player Dungy said Hart reminded him of wasn't a running back — it was center Mike Webster from Dungy's playing days with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Webster was a nine-time Pro Bowler, seven-time All-Pro, and is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"Mike Webster was too short and not fast enough and just blocked everybody in high school and college and blocked people in the NFL," Dungy said. "Guys that are super productive, they find a way to get the job done."

So far, Hart has also found a way to get the job done. Will it be enough to gain a roster spot and wrest carries away from proven performers like Dominic Rhodes and Kenton Keith once the regular season starts?

There's a lot of camp and preseason left, so time will tell. But Hart is certainly off to a good start.


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