Vick Ballard finished his rookie season with 12 consecutive starts at running back, 211 carries, 814 yards and a highlight reel diving, corkscrew touchdown to win an overtime game in Tennessee.
It remains to be seen just how much new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton will look to split up the workload for the team’s running backs.
“It’s always nice to have a couple guys, a change of pace guy,” coach Chuck Pagano said recently. “But certainly at the end of the year with Donnie hurt and the way Vick came on and the way he was running, he was getting the lion’s share of the snaps. At this point, yeah, he’s sitting there as the lead guy. But Donnie’s in great shape and healthy and looks fantastic to this point in the offseason program.
“Can Vick be an every-down guy? Yeah. Can Donnie be an every-down guy? Yeah. They are different types of runners and are more than capable on third down, knowing the protections and picking up blitzers and being effective once they get out to catch the football and doing those things out of the backfield."
Ballard and Brown should be able to complement each other. Carter can be insurance for Ballard and Williams might be an alternate change up for Brown.
“Vick is a solid, solid guy; Donnie is a home run hitter,” Pagano said. “If he gets the edge and hits a crease, he can take it the distance. For Vick, look at that last drive of the regular season against the Texans: We got the ball with 9:46 on the clock, we ran 12 plays, 11 runs, and we ended up taking a knee. Vick took the lion’s share of carries on that drive. He just keeps getting stronger, the more carries he has the better he gets.”
Under Hamilton the backs are sure to be used more as pass-catchers. Last season with Bruce Arians calling the plays, backs accounted for just 34 catches -- only 10 percent of the team’s receptions.
Ballard led the group with 17, including the one he turned into that catch and run twisting TD at LP Field for that 19-13 win over the Titans.
He could be featured in a much bigger way in the revised passing game.