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Colts running back frustrated by team ‘going backwards’

Frank Gore #23 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball against the Denver Broncos during a game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 8, 2015. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – This isn’t what Frank Gore signed up for.

This isn’t what the veteran running back, then a fresher 32-year old, envisioned when he left San Francisco, spurned a free-agent offer from the Philadelphia Eagles and signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts, remember, were a franchise on the rise, fresh off the 2014 AFC Championship game and hell-bent on taking that next step.

“I thought I was one of the missing pieces they needed to get them over the top,’’ Gore said Monday.

He’s still waiting.

Instead of being instrumental in the Colts building on ’14, Gore has had to deal with maddening mediocrity during the twilight of a career that could lead him to a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Consecutive 8-8 records, which means three straight .500 seasons for Gore.

Consecutive non-playoff seasons for a franchise that had followed Andrew Luck into the postseason for three straight years.

Individually, Gore has held up his end. He’s led the team in rushing each season – 967 yards in ’15, 1,025 in ’16 – and a year ago became the first Colt since Joseph Addai in 2006 to crack the 1,000-yard level. He’s in position to join John Riggins and John Henry Johnson as the only running backs to rush for at least 1,000 yards at age 34.

Gore enters the season, his 13th, with 13,065 yards. That’s good for 8th on the NFL’s all-time list. With 620 yards, he moves onto the No. 5 rung ahead of LaDainian Tomlinson. With 1,037, he vaults to No. 4 ahead of Curtis Martin.

Of the top 15 rushers in NFL history, 13 have bronze busts in Canton, Ohio. The outliers: Gore and Edgerrin James (No. 12 with 12,246). James was one of 15 modern-day finalists two years ago and might be again this year.

Gore, understated and hardly a self-promoter, was asked if his gradual climb up the NFL’s career rushing charts serves as motivation.

“Yeah and no,’’ he said. “If we’re winning and we’re going to the playoffs, I’m fine with that. I’m not here to just play be about numbers.

“I’m here to get to the playoffs or go to the championship and get a Super Bowl. I’ll be satisfied with that.’’

That’s why the past two seasons have eaten at Gore.

“It didn’t happen,’’ he said, “and yeah, it was frustrating. It’s a team game.

“Coming in and what it was and going backwards, that’s tough.’’

Gore’s frustration is shared. The Colts are in danger of missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1994.

“It’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable . . . 8-8 ain’t good enough,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “Not making the playoffs is not good enough here.

“We understand what the expectations are and what the standard is. That’s why we’re here. It’s a new season. It’s a fresh start.’’

It’s the latest start for Gore. His practice time will be monitored and everything tailored so his 34-year old body will be ready for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Rams.

“Whatever my coaches want me to do, I’ll do,’’ he said. “They want me to be ready for the season, so they want me to build each day.

“I feel good.’’

Gore remains the focal point of the running game even though Robert Turbin and rookie Marlon Mack might cut into his workload.

As much as Gore offers on the field, no one should dismiss the value of his sheer presence.

“We tell the young guys, ‘Hey, get in this guy’s hip pocket,’’’ Pagano said. “Obviously he’s figured it out and figured it out early in his career about routine. He knows about process, how to take are of his body, how to practice, proper nutrition, all that stuff.’’

Gore is dedicated and committed. He works on his craft and doesn’t take short cuts. He’s the consummate teammate.

Just ask guard Jack Mewhort.

“Frank Gore’s a guy I feel lucky to have a couple of years with as a teammate,’’ he said. “That’s a guy that’s going to be going to Canton one day. In this building, I follow him around like a puppy dog. I absorb everything I can from him.

“He’s greatness. He’s one of the best running backs of all time and to be able to share the field with him is something special. He’s still got it.

“Frank may be getting near the end, maybe not, but we want to win for him and all those veterans in there.’’

Gore insists on taking a day-by-day, year-by-year approach, but the fact remains he’s entering the final year of his free-agent contract. His time with the Colts might be winding down.

“I’m not thinking about (a) contract year,’’ Gore said. “I’m taking it one day at and getting better each day. If I (am) successful this year and I want to play next year, someone will pick me up if not here.

“I’ve just got to go out there and try to be me. If I still love it and my body’s feeling good and I feel like I can do it, why not do it? I’m still enjoying it. I still feel good. I still love competing against the other guys.’’