ANDERSON – Speculation about the Indianapolis Colts' true commitment to a strong running game hasn't lessened for offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.
About three questions into every session with the media – after Andrew Luck's progress and various wide receiver queries – Hamilton is asked about the running game. The gist of the question: You're not really going to run that much, are you?
To paraphrase Hamilton's response: Yes.
But let's let him expand a bit. Hamilton, who succeeds Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator, said he spent time this summer studying the offenses of different NFL teams. He pointed to the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers – last year's Super Bowl teams – as the starting points.
“Both are physical, power-running teams that do a great job of stopping the run,” Hamilton said Monday. “I know firsthand coach (Jim) Harbaugh's philosophy of offense. He hired me at Stanford. I believe we should be able to run the football and commit to running the football. But by no means are we going to not work on being an efficient passing team.
“We want to maintain balance more than anything. When we talk about running the football, we're just trying to create a mentality and mindset for all of our guys.”
It would be easy to parse Hamilton's comments. Yes, the Ravens and 49ers ran the ball, but hardly at the expense of their passing game. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco wouldn't have become filthy rich if the team didn't value his ability to air out the football.
The latter part of Hamilton's comments – creating a mentality and mindset – seems to lend itself to the Colts simply developing a ground attack that can be used with confidence when necessary. Maybe the mindset implies being effective in goal-line or short-yardage situations or when milking the clock.
But Hamilton has also talked about using the running game effectively to avoid third-and-long situations that increase the pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck.
“We're going to do whatever it takes to win ball games,” Hamilton said. “If that means we'll go out and (run) the ball more than we pass the ball, or vice versa, then so be it. Andrew, he's bought into the fact a good running game can really open up our passing game. That's truly the formula we used in college. Score points any way we can.”
Yet just as Hamilton implies flexibility and fluidity in the offensive approach, he'll reemphasize the importance of the power-running game.
The Colts have yet to have their full roster of running backs, incidentally, since Ahmad Bradshaw remains on the physically unable to perform list. Second-year running back Vick Ballard and veteran Donald Brown have had most of the reps in training camp.
Third-year player Delone Carter and rookie Kerwynn Williams have also seen some action. The Colts signed running back Robert Hughes on Monday. Hughes played in five games with the Colts last season.
“It's about being physical,” Hamilton said. “It's all about imposing our will upon our opponent. We don't want to waste plays in the run game. … Our offense linemen have done an excellent job of being physical, having a physical mindset and buying into the fact that it's going to hurt when we run the football, but we expect to hurt our opponents more than it hurts us, especially in third quarter when we continue to run the football.”
It should be noted that teams often advertise one way of playing during training camp, but circumstances alter that when the regular season arrives.
Luck continues to work pretty significantly with Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey (when healthy), Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, so there's more to camp than handing off.
“I think the guys up front are doing a great job,” Luck said. “Everybody's buying into the smash-mouth approach. It's only going to help us in the passing game.”