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COLUMN

Colts cultivating familiar look with Richardson deal

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

The plan to surround Andrew Luck with talent continues

Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 2:36 pm

After all these years, it's still about offense for the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts' trade of a 2014 first-round draft pick for Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson proves the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When the modern-day Colts were at the peak of their powers, they were built around the offense and the “Triplets,” quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James and wide receiver Marvin Harrison.

This trade sets up a reprise with Andrew Luck, Richardson and T.Y. Hilton.

I'm not convinced Richardson will drastically change the trajectory of this season. He could. His solid running and pass-catching skills could ignite more offense or at least give opposing defenses more to consider in their game plans. He doesn't necessarily bust big runs, but he churns yards and he's a dual threat. He rushed for 950 yards and caught 51 passes for 367 yards last season.

Yet the schedule remains formidable with the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos on the immediate horizon. The Colts still have to figure out ways to contain Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Manning. It's bound to take Richardson some time to adjust to the Colts' offense.

The fact the team lost starting tight end Dwayne Allen to a season-ending hip injury is a major blow regardless of the new dynamic at running back. I know Colts fans are so excited about Richardson they've put the loss of Allen on the backburner. We'll see, in coming situations, how much the Colts will miss Allen's presence. I suspect his absence will reinforce his value.

But, long term, the Colts have the potential for three of the best at their positions again in Luck, Richardson and Hilton.

I'm not discounting the great veteran Colts receiver Reggie Wayne, but he has only two or three seasons of quality production left. Darrius Heyward-Bey might factor in, but that's hard to tell at this point. Eventually, this will be a Luck-Richardson-Hilton triumvirate of key playmakers. Add a healthy Allen and a productive Coby Fleener at tight ends and the offense could grow into the most formidable one in the league.

I suspect the Colts expect to score more than the 20.5 points per game they've put up in their first two games.

More and more, it appears the Colts under Ryan Grigson, like the Colts under Bill Polian, will continue to emphasize offense as the most important part of the team. The fact they added Heyward-Bey and running back Ahmad Bradshaw during the offseason hinted as much. Yes, they picked up some defensive talent, too, including LaRon Landry, but combined with the 2012 draft, it was offensively heavy. I'm OK with that. I'd rather watch a shootout than a 14-10 game.

Look at the major young talent the Colts have acquired or drafted, starting with Luck and continuing with Hilton, Vick Ballard, Allen, Fleener and even LaVon Brazill, who's been forgotten while on suspension but could be a factor later this season. Throw Heyward-Bey into that mix. He's only 26 even though he seems like he's been around the league longer.

Luck was the No.1 pick in the 2012 draft. Richardson was the No.3 pick. It's safe to say the aggressiveness of Grigson hasn't slowed in his first two years on the job.

One question for this season is how the addition of Richardson affects the team's chemistry. I expect that will be fine. I'm sure Richardson will be thrilled to join a perceived contender and leave behind a perceived mess. Bradshaw could be threatened when it comes to carries, but he'll likely still get his share. Donald Brown will be the odd man out again.

When Ballard comes back next season from his torn anterior cruciate ligament, it'll be interesting to see how the Colts blend Richardson and Ballard. They're fairly similar backs, although Richardson has the edge in stats, especially as a pass receiver.

I'm getting ahead of things. This trade might pay its biggest dividends next year, but the move was made with 2013 in mind.

The Colts expected to be 2-0 at this point, whether they'd say so or not. They've lost three offensive starters in the last week in guard Donald Thomas, Ballard and Allen. The atmosphere around the complex was not desperate, but it seemed strained with the news about Allen on Wednesday.

The Colts had a chance to swing a deal that would alter the makeup of this year's team, offense and expectations. Grigson epitomizes the bold general manager. Did he give up too much for Richardson? It's too soon to tell.

There aren't a lot of differences between elite running backs and almost-elite running backs. Perhaps Ballard could give the Colts, in the long run, as much production. When next year's draft comes around, depending on how the Colts finish, they may wish they had that first-round pick back for some other need.

For now, they've shaken up the NFL. They've shaken up their identity. They're on their way to being the league's most interesting offensive team again.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.