The Indianapolis Colts acquired running back Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns last season, and were hoping to get a franchise running back that would be able to grow alongside Andrew Luck for years to come. He had shown a lot of promise in his rookie season with the Browns, rushing for 950 yards on 267 attempts and also putting up 11 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he did not end up playing to the potential that the Colts were expecting. Will he last as the Colts’ starting running back through the entire season?
Richardson played in 14 games with the Colts last season, rushing for 458 yards and three touchdowns on 157 carries. He averaged just 2.9 yards per carry, and that has been an issue as he averages just 3.3 yards per carry overall in his career. That being said, he will open this coming season as the Colts’ starting running back, and they are hoping that he can turn things around.
During the preseason, Richardson looked lost once again and was unable to put up decent numbers in any of the three games that he played. Part of his struggle has to do with the offensive line allowing defenses to get to him quickly, but the other issue that he has is dancing around behind the line rather than making quick decisive moves. That will have to change if he wants any chance at becoming the starting running back that the Colts thought they were acquiring.
What must Richardson do in order to turn his career back around and get on the right track?
Quite simply, he has to play his style and be a power back. Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton loves to pound the football on the ground, and that is part of the reason that Ryan Grigson pulled the trigger to acquire Richardson in the first place. He fits the offensive scheme perfectly, and on paper should be a major success with the Colts’ offense. Last season, it appeared that he was more interested in dancing around and trying to make a big play rather than picking up the tough yards on each and every down.
Perhaps the first thing that he needs to focus on doing is hitting the hole quickly, and lowering his shoulder pads to run through defenders. The Colts’ offensive line isn’t going to push the defensive line back, and they likely aren’t going to open up any huge holes for him to run through either. Richardson’s best bet is to rely on himself and use his strength to pick up consistent yardage each and every down.
Another thing that Richardson needs to do is focus on being productive as a receiver out of the backfield. There were some times late in the season last year where the Colts gave Richardson some touches as a receiver, and he ended up catching 28 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown on the season. Luck is one of the best up-and-coming quarterbacks in the game, and he will find Richardson if he’s able to get open out of the backfield.
Indianapolis has a lot of expectations of Richardson this season, and they aren’t going to give him a long time to figure things out. If he doesn’t start performing up to the level that the Colts are expecting out of him, they will look to veteran Ahmad Bradshaw or possibly Dan “Boom” Herron to replace Richardson. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but the Colts don’t have much patience left after a disappointing season last year.
During training camp, Richardson was visited by former Colts’ great running back Edgerrin James. James sees a lot of potential in Richardson, and he was able to watch a couple of practices and give some advice to the troubled back. Perhaps learning some tips from one of the best running backs in Colts’ history will help Richardson out this season.
When everything is said and done, there are three simple things that Richardson must do this coming season in order to turn his career back around. First of all, he needs to be decisive with his running and embrace contact. Secondly, he has to stop trying to make a big play each time he touches the football and focus on gaining consistent, tough yardage. Thirdly and finally, he needs to understand that the Colts’ offensive line is not a great unit as a whole, and that he needs to be ready for contact shortly after touching the football.
This situation is certainly not ideal for Richardson, but there is no reason that he was shown up by backup running back Donald Brown last season. Richardson may not have the speed to break through the small holes that the offensive line does open up from time to time, but he has the power to make his own. If he puts his head down and focuses on fighting through contact for short, consistent yardage each and every down, he is going to end up breaking big plays here and there simply from busting loose.
Will he end up turning things around this season with the Colts? Only time will tell, but it is very obvious what he needs to work on starting in Week 1. The Colts aren’t going to go away from running the football simply because he is struggling, and playing for his job could give him the extra motivation that he needs to play his style. Expect to see an improved Richardson this season, but only he can decide whether or not he will live up to the potential that the Colts saw in him when they pulled the trigger on the trade.