Battle for starting position: Running back

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
8:00
AM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano as usual had no interest in going into details on what the most competitive positions will be for starting spots once they report to Anderson (Ind.) University for training camp on July 23.

The only thing Pagano would say about starting spots is that quarterback Andrew Luck will start. Put that down in permanent marker as long as he’s part of the franchise.

“I mean you look at this team today compared to when we started, like I told the team, it’s going to be really, really difficult, and I told our staff, really difficult to get to 53 this year,” Pagano said. “When we get to final cut-down, it is going to be difficult.”

Monday is the start of a five-day series while I'm on vacation looking at the five most competitive positions for a starting spot.

Position: Running back

Primary candidates: Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard

Richardson: 157 attempts, 458 yards, 3 TD

Richardson
Pro: Richardson is the most talented of the three competing for the position. Colts general manager Ryan Grigson gave up a first-round draft pick to acquire Richardson from Cleveland last season. Richardson has had a full offseason to learn the Colts’ offense after being thrown into the fire in Week 3 last season. ESPN's Jim Trotter had a nugget last week where Richardson has gotten a lot of praise from the coaching staff. One coach told Trotter has the potential to be a three-down back.

Con: All you have to do is look at Richardson’s statistics -- or watch a few of his runs -- from last season to see him struggle and then it's easy to question if he’ll ever live up to the expectations of being the No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft. He only averaged 2.9 yards a carry and eventually lost his starting spot to Donald Brown late in the season, giving Cleveland the obvious advantage in the trade. The Colts need more University of Alabama Trent Richardson and less indecisive running Trent Richardson. The Browns used the No. 26 pick to draft Johnny Manziel, who by name alone makes Cleveland relevant in the league.

Bradshaw: 41 attempts, 186 yards, 2 TD

Bradshaw
Pro: Bradshaw only played in three games last season, and it only took one game to prove he was the Colts’ best running back last season. He rushed for 95 yards on 19 attempts against San Francisco in Week 3. The 95 yards were the most by any Colts running back in a single game last season. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton talks about having a power running game. Bradshaw fits the description perfectly.

Con: Injuries, injuries and more injuries. Bradshaw has a difficult time staying healthy. His season ended after the game against the 49ers because of a neck injury. Bradshaw has only played in all 16 games in a season once, in 2010, in his seven-year career. You want your starter to be dependable in the health department. Bradshaw isn’t that.

Ballard: 13 attempts, 63 yards 0 TD

Ballard
Pro: Ballard started his rookie season in 2012 and rushed for 814 yards and two touchdowns on 211 attempts. He averaged 4.8 yards a carry in the one game he played last season.

Con: Ballard tore his ACL while making a cut in practice prior to Week 2. It’s difficult to regain your form quickly from an ACL tear unless your name is Adrian Peterson. Ballard is behind Richardson and Bradshaw in the competition since he didn’t take part in any of the Colts’ offseason workouts because he’s still working his way back.

Wells’ verdict: Richardson will be given the first shot at starting partially based off his talent and because not starting would be another sign of a failed trade by Grigson. But don’t be shocked if Bradshaw ends up starting if Richardson struggles early. The Colts aren’t in the position to be waiting for Richardson to find his rhythm.

Mike Wells

ESPN Indianapolis Colts reporter

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