Plenty of questions about the Colts’ running game

By Jeff Ford  |   Tuesday, August 29, 2006  |  Comments( 0 )

Indianapolis Colts
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When Indianapolis Colts running back Marshall Faulk was traded to the St. Louis Rams after the 1998 season, everyone wondered how team president Bill Polian could possibly fill the void left by the Pro Bowler. He responded by drafting Edgerrin James, who helped lead the Colts to a 13-3 record in his first season in the NFL.

Now Polian faces a similar situation with James gone to Arizona in free agency, only this time he didn't have the luxury of an early first-round pick. The Colts were coming off of their best regular season in team history and had the 30th pick in the first round. This time Polian selected Joseph Addai from LSU as James' replacement. Can he fill the void left by the four-time Pro Bowler?

As the preseason has played out, there has been much speculation over Addai's ability to fill the running back position vacated by James. Many Colts fans have complete faith in Polian and believe if he thinks Addai is the man for the job, then Addai is the man for the job. Others believe that Dominic Rhodes will take the reins and be the breakout rusher that he was never allowed to be while sitting behind James on the depth chart. Still, others think that neither man will live up to the expectations and the Colts' running game will suffer.

Each back has his own positives and negatives leading into the regular season, yet many questions remain about both of them. Rhodes has experience in the system - he filled in for James in 2001 when James went down with a torn ACL - and is hungry to prove himself as a starting back in the NFL. However, there are concerns about Rhodes' durability. He has had injury problems in the past and many worry that he cannot carry the load for a full NFL season.

Addai has good speed and is a proven receiver out of the backfield, plus he played under current Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban at LSU which may ease his transition to the NFL. Addai is a rookie and lacks experience at the NFL level, obviously. Most are concerned with his ability to grasp the offense, understand his role as a pass blocker and execute when the blitz is on.

After three preseason games, no clear answers have emerged for either man. At times, both backs have looked capable of carrying the offense and both have looked as if they are merely backups to the missing star that is no longer in Indy. Rhodes has looked more decisive and comfortable in the offense, while Addai has appeared hesitant and apprehensive. However, both backs have suffered from poor blocking by the offensive line at times.

Just as Rhodes and Addai will need time to adjust to the offense, the o-line will need some time to adjust to blocking for the tandem. This line is used to blocking for a Pro Bowl-caliber back in James, who could make the most out of their blocks. The line could afford to be a little sloppier with James hitting the holes with reckless abandon. However, Rhodes and Addai aren't yet James-caliber backs and the linemen will need to hold their blocks that extra instant to compensate for these two guys who are still adjusting to being every-down backs in the NFL.

Polian certainly doesn't look like a genius yet for drafting Addai, but it's not quite September. The Colts still have some major improvements to make before the running game returns to its 2005 form, but there is no reason to think that this tandem won't produce enough yards to keeps the Colts' offense at the top of the league.

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