Tom Rathman holding Colts running backs to his high standards


Running Backs coach Tom Rathman addresses players during a San Francisco 49ers practice session at Levi’s Stadium on August 7, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The introductory meeting undoubtedly began with an introduction.

Good morning, I’m Tom Rathman, your position coach.

Once the pleasantries were out of the way early last month, the man in charge of the Indianapolis Colts running backs room got down to business. And that included introducing those running backs – young and not-so-young – to what would be expected from them.

First and foremost, they would be held to a high standard, the lofty one Rathman set and pursued as a two-time Super Bowl-winning fullback with the San Francisco 49ers, and the one he has followed in two decades as an NFL assistant coach.

“They know what the expectations are,’’ Rathman said earlier this week. “I laid it out on the board the first day they get in there, what I’m expecting of them. I’m going to hold them to my standards and my standards were pretty high coming from the 49ers.’’

He was a third-round pick of the 49ers in 1986 and spent eight seasons as a no-nonsense cog in San Francisco’s offensive machine. Excellence wasn’t hoped for, it was demanded. The 49ers always won at least 10 games and twice won 14 during Rathman’s eight-year stint. They lifted the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowls XXIII and XXIV.

San Francisco possessed blinding offensive star power with Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, John Taylor and others. Rathman was the blue-collar fullback. He never rushed for more than 427 yards, but did his job – rushing, receiving, run blocking, pass protection – to the best of his ability.

Every. Single. Game.

“The emphasis here is to play every play and win each play,’’ Rathman said. “I believe as a player you can win every play that you play.’’

Coming through the 49ers’ system and spending so much time with Craig and the others taught Rathman “how to play the game the right way. (I) learned how to develop standards, coming in every day, being the same guy and trying to improve every day.

“Those are the kind of things we’re trying to teach our guys here.’’

Rathman commands a diverse position room. Short-yardage standout Robert Turbin (28 and entering his seventh season), Christine Michael (27 and in sixth season), and Josh Ferguson (24 and third season) offer experience. Marlon Mack played extensively and showed game-breaking potential as a rookie last season, but just turned 22 in March. Nyheim Hines, 21, and Jordan Wilkins, 23, are rookie draft picks.

Mack’s on-field development will lag behind the others while he recovers from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.

“I don’t think we’re going to get him until training camp,’’ Rathman said.

With the turnover of the coaching staff and offseason departure of Frank Gore, Rathman is intent on putting his mark on the running backs. He plans on overseeing a tougher group.

“One thing I demand out of the players is toughness because I know one thing: if you are coaching a tough guy, that tough guy isn’t going to let you down,’’ he said. “I just know tough guys don’t let you down.’’

Also, Rathman is demanding his players strive for excellence.

“We’re trying to develop that standard here,’’ he said, “and I think they’re buying into it.

“It’s about coming to work every day and being a blue-collar worker and carrying your lunchpail. We’re not prima donnas back there. We want to be blue-collar workers and that’s what we’re going to emphasize.’’

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