The Indianapolis Colts needed to improve their run game heading into 2013, after finishing last season 22nd in the league on the ground (which forced Andrew Luck to throw more than 600 passes). They also made it a focus to better protect their franchise QB -- Luck was sacked 41 times in 16 regular-season games.
The Colts helped both aims by signing free-agent running back Ahmad Bradshaw to a one-year deal.
Bradshaw rushed for 1,015 yards despite struggling with injuries in 2012, and he'll pair with Vick Ballard to give the Colts a dangerous 1-2 punch at running back. Perhaps more importantly, though, Bradshaw has proven himself to be one of the better pass-blocking backs in the league, meaning he should be on the field frequently when the Colts want to take to the air.
That's no small consideration, given how much Indianapolis is counting on Luck for the foreseeable future. Luck took far too many hits last season, behind a shaky offensive line and with little help beside him in the backfield.
Bradshaw has averaged 31.25 receptions over his past four seasons (despite missing a total of seven games); Ballard, Donald Brown and Mewelde Moore combined for 32 receptions during the 2012 season. So, Bradshaw should give Indianapolis more options, whether it chooses to utilize him as a blocker or flare him out as a receiver on passing downs.
That versatility had been missing previously from the Colts' depth chart. But with Ballard and Bradshaw together, Indianapolis has two backs capable of carrying the No. 1 load plus a critical mix of between-the-tackles strength and passing game competency.
The arrival of new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton should play to Bradshaw's abilities, too. There's a lot more on Hamilton from this post last week, but he made it a habit to use his backs as all-around threats while at Stanford. Already, he's implemented more of a West Coast offense, which will take some of the pressure off Luck in the backfield while getting the football into the hands of Indianapolis' playmakers. The Colts' offseason additions of tackle Gosder Cherulis, guard Donald Thomas and now Bradshaw will ease Luck's burden further. There may be questions about Bradshaw's durability, following a long list of foot ailments. The Colts should have little doubt, however, that a healthy Bradshaw will improve their offense in a number of different ways.