New Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said Thursday that he wanted to slowly expand Ahmad Bradshaw's role as the season progressed, with Bradshaw eventually splitting carries 50-50 with Vick Ballard.
It appears Indianapolis will need a whole lot more than that from Bradshaw, far faster than expected.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Ballard suffered a season-ending knee injury Thursday, a critical blow to the Colts' offense. Head coach Chuck Pagano confirmed that Ballard had torn the ACL in his right knee.
Ballard entered the offseason as the team's No. 1 running back and had held that spot despite the addition of Bradshaw in June. Ballard played 41 snaps and rushed 13 times in the Colts' Week 1 win over Oakland compared to 15 snaps and seven rush attempts by Bradshaw.
The issue with relying on Bradshaw going forward? He's had injury problems of his own. Foot surgery in January limited him all the way through training camp and the preseason, including zero appearances in the Colts' exhibition games. He did lead the Giants in rushing last season with 1,015 yards, despite missing two games and dealing with lingering foot pain for the majority of the year.
The other running back currently on the Colts' roster is disappointing 2009 first-round pick Donald Brown. He topped out in 2010 with 645 yards rushing and did not see a single touch during Indianapolis' win over the Raiders.
Though Bradshaw likely would have cut into Ballard's playing time in the coming weeks, Ballard was the back Indianapolis could least afford to lose right now. It's unclear if Bradshaw is capable of handling an increased workload at the moment, so Brown may wind up with extra responsibilities by default. Indianapolis also reportedly promoted 2013 seventh-round pick Kerwynn Williams from the practice squad to the active roster in light of Ballard's injury.
The Colts may be in the market for another back, too, if they're not sold on some combo of Bradshaw, Brown and possibly Williams getting the job done.
Ballard was the Colts' leading rusher in 2012 with 814 yards. He scored just two touchdowns, though, and averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per carry, so the Bradshaw move was made in hopes of upgrading that position.
In the immediate future, Ballard's absence will drop more pressure on Bradshaw and Brown not only to pick up the slack on the ground but also to help stymie the Dolphins' pass rush in Week 2. Indianapolis did use fullback Stanley Havili on 28 snaps last Sunday, so his presence will help protect QB Andrew Luck, but Ballard turned in a stout blocking performance against the Raiders. Bradshaw has a reputation as a more-than-adequate blocker himself but, again, he's working through some rust at the moment.
No matter how you slice it, this is a setback for the Colts -- one that could turn the offseason acquisition of Bradshaw into a season-saver.