Assessing the Colts during the offseason: Running backs

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Robert Turbin #33 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates a touchdown in the second quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings on December 18, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – By any standard, the Indianapolis Colts weren’t good enough in 2016.

The only bottom line that matters: finishing 8-8 (again) and missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

“We understand that 8-8 in not good enough and that’s on me,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “This is a winning culture, it is a winning organization and we didn’t achieve the goal and we all know that.’’

It’s going to take significant personnel changes during the offseason if the Colts are going to return to relevancy. That includes prudent investments in veteran free agency, which begins March 9, and further bolstering a flawed roster through the April 27-29 draft.

Before we consider outside solutions, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Colts.

Today: Running backs

  • Under contract: Frank Gore, Josh Ferguson.
  • Pending free agents: Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman.
  • Looking back: Season 12 was bittersweet for Gore. While further boosting a Pro Football Hall of Fame-worthy resume, he saw his team miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season, including the last two in Indy. Trust us, Gore would trade every hard-earned yard for a trip to the postseason.
    “Knowing what we have in this locker room, knowing how hard our coach has been working for us to try to get that goal, and we fell short once again,’’ he said with a shrug. “When you look back on the season, it’s been us. We gave games away and you can’t do that in this league.
    “Not where we want to be, and that’s on us.’’
    Gore, 33, did his part. He became the first Colt since Joseph Addai in 2007 to crack the 1,000-yard mark (1,025), and his 106-yard outing against Houston in week 6 snapped the team’s 61-game streak without a 100-yard rusher, which was the NFL’s longest drought.
    On a grander scale, Gore continued to defy Father Time. He became the first player 33 or older to rush for 1,000 yards since John Riggins in 1984, set an NFL record with 11 consecutive seasons with at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage and joined Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Curtis Martin and Barry Sanders as the only players with at least nine 1,000-yard seasons.
    “It’s a blessing, especially coming here and (the Colts) haven’t done it since 2007,’’ Gore said of his 1,000-yard season. “It is special to me because the guys up front who all have been here just hearing what they can’t do and they proved people wrong.
    “So, it’s real big.’’
    Gore was one of six players to start all 16 games, and his 91 consecutive starts is the league’s longest active streak among running backs.
    “He is made of something really special,’’ offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. “I love Frank Gore.’’
    Turbin represented an ideal complement to Gore and emerged as one of the league’s most effective short-yardage and goal-line backs. Despite handling just 73 “touches,’’ he tied Gore with a team-best eight touchdowns (seven rushing, one receiving). He was one of four players with at least five attempts to convert each of his third-and-1 opportunities (5-for-5).
  • Looking ahead: Gore shows no signs of slowing down, but that’s going to happen at some point. No one should be surprised if 2017, his 13th season, is his last.
    “I’ve been blessed,’’ he said. “The Man up above has been on my side and I still love the game. In the offseason I train hard to prepare and get ready for the season. The young guys push me, and I believe I push them.’’
    Fine, but the Colts must take a long-range view in the offseason even if they re-sign the 26-year-old Turbin. He believes he possesses starter talent, but it’s hard to imagine management placing the future of the running game in Turbin’s hands.
    While the primary focus of the draft must be restocking a bad defense, it also must uncover a young back to groom as Gore’s successor. If veteran free agency doesn’t deliver that player to the roster, a mid-round draft pick must.
    Since the arrival of general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano in 2012, the Colts’ ground game has been pedestrian, ranking 22nd three times, 29th once and tied for 20th once.
    Some of that has to do with the Colts leaning so heavily on the Andrew Luck-led passing attack. Over the past five seasons, their per-game averages of 25.9 rushing attempts and 101.2 yards rank in the bottom third of the league. But their 3.9 average per attempt is among the bottom five.
    Getting younger at the position potentially would inject a big-play threat into the offense while still relying on the blue-collar Gore.
    The Colts have drafted just nine running backs since 1999, and their actions revealed their intentions. There were three first-rounders (Edgerrin James in 1999, Addai in ’06 and Donald Brown in ’09). The other six were taken in round 5 or later.
  • Offseason priority: High.
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