Indianapolis Colts coach Bruce Arians conjured the Ring of Honor this week to describe running back Vick Ballard. Fans hope hyperbole has some basis in reality.
Ballard enters today's showdown at Houston as one of the pivotal players in the Colts' goals to win, clinch a playoff berth and keep their AFC South title chances alive.
If he channels a little Edgerrin James, that would indeed help.
“He's powerful. He's a poor man's Edge,” Arians said. “He's bowlegged like Edge and he's about the same size and tough to bring down. He's quick, he's elusive, doesn't have the great, great speed but he can make the first guy miss and he's going to make a lot of yards because he makes people miss. He's got a great future (if he can) stay healthy.”
Ballard expects to carry a heavy load at Houston if the Colts are going to deliver the type of balanced offense necessary to keep the Texan's vaunted pass rush at bay. With injuries to Donald Brown, Delone Carter and Robert Hughes, Ballard will be backed up by newly re-signed Mewelde Moore and Deji Karim.
Ballard rushed for a career-best 94 yards last week.
As a rookie, he's defying the trends a bit, looking as though he's becoming a stronger runner than he was earlier in the season. Ballard has rushed 146 times for a team-leading 562 yards (3.8 per carry) and one touchdown. He also has a receiving touchdown.
Ballard said he feels the style of running that made him a success at Mississippi State has translated well to the NFL.
“I'm doing a lot of things better, but as far as changing my game, I don't think I have,” he said. “I don't think you see running backs change their games. Running back is an instinctive position and I just try to take what I can see.”
Ballard has shown a proclivity to attack both with his quickness, darting laterally to avoid defenders, and with his power, plowing over defenders when necessary.
His most memorable play in his young career was his leaping, twisting dive into the end zone at the end of a pass reception to beat the Titans in overtime.
He doesn't shy away from contact.
“I wouldn't say I'm 'willing' – I don't want to get hit – but it's part of the position,” he said. “If you run the ball between the tackles, you're going to have contact. I'm used to it now. I've been playing running back my whole life.”
Like most running back, he tries to initiate contact when contact is inevitable.
“It definitely feels a lot better when you're giving the punishment instead of taking it,” Ballard said. “When you're taking it, it might take a few seconds to get up. When you're giving it, it might take a few seconds for them to get up.”
Ballard said he suffered a “stinger” against the Titans last week, but had to return to the game in relatively short fashion because the rest of the running backs were hurt.
Even as a rookie, he knows the ways of the NFL. Miss a game, risk losing your starting spot. Ballard, in fact, took the starting job from Brown, who is now on injured reserve.
“Early on, my role wasn't that big,” he said. “It's just a fact that B.A. (Arians has enough trust in me to increase my role. That says a lot about him and how they feel about me.”
The Colts need optimum play from every player to upset the Texans today. But there's no doubt an early, strong performance by Ballard could set a tone for the game.