The Indianapolis Colts went nearly all of last season without Ballard, their leading rusher in 2012. They're about to face the same void in 2014.
Trent Richardson: This is your life.
Richardson was a mess after coming to Indy in a blockbuster trade that cost the Colts a first-round pick last September. The running back played himself out of a defined role by the time the playoffs rolled around.
Richardson was the subject of inevitable optimism this spring. We were told Richardson now knew the playbook instead of merely remembering it. Colts coaches privately continued to view Richardson as a legit three-down back. "(We) fully expect him to have a great year," Chuck Pagano exclaimed.
Taking Ballard out of the mix is like removing the safety net from underneath the "T-Rich Redemption High-Wire Act." Richardson's chief backup is now Ahmad Bradshaw, a once-productive player whose body has been breaking down for years. Chris Rainey and Dan Herron linger on the periphery, hardly first choices to grind out tough yards for a Super Bowl contender.
Before Thursday, the Colts believed Richardson could bounce back. Now they need him to.
Here's what else we learned Friday:
2. Johnny Manziel is still fighting for his right to party, but he now concedes he didn't always do it the right way this offseason. "At the end of the day, I've made some rookie mistakes," the quarterback said. Browns coach Mike Pettine, meanwhile, reiterated that Brian Hoyer will start the preseason opener. Privately, the Browns could be worried about their first-round pick.
3. The Houston Texans got a wave of relief when Andre Johnson reported to camp. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Texans gave Johnson assurances he would remain in their plans in 2015. This is important to the wide receiver, who's due to earn $10.5 million next season.
4. Rob Gronkowski spoke with reporters about his ongoing recovery from knee surgery, explaining that he remains less than 100 percent and will be brought along slowly in training camp. His style of play will remain intact, however. "I ain't changing that one bit. I'm gonna go full speed when I'm out there, and I'm gonna keep smashing and dashing everything I do." "Smashing and Dashing" is a great fantasy team name.
5. Carl Nicks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have "mutually" parted ways. Nicks' toe continues to be an issue one year after getting tagged with a dangerous MRSA infection. "After careful consideration, I have made the decision to step away from the game." Sad story.
6. The fallout has begun in Seattle following Marshawn Lynch's decision to hold out of training camp. Pete Carroll is (predictably) "disappointed." Teammate Doug Baldwin has Beast Mode's back, dismissing Carroll's take that players should honor the contracts they sign. "I hate the 'but you signed the contract' argument,'" Baldwin wrote on Twitter. "Players can't say that (expletive) when organizations cut them." Defending Super Bowl titles is tricky business.
7. While we're here, San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore is also Team Beast Mode. Gore told NFL Media columnist Michael Silver that no Marshawn Lynch has meant no Seahawks offense the past two years. The Inconvenient Truth just dropped a potentially inconvenient truth for Seattle.