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Pagano has high expectations for RB Josh Ferguson

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Might Josh Ferguson emerge as this year's version of Thomas Rawls, an undrafted rookie who goes on to outshine one of the most respected running backs of the past decade?

A dual purpose threat at Illinois, Ferguson was one of the premier receiving backs in this year's draft class. The Colts gave serious consideration to pulling the trigger as early as the fourth round, per Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star. When he fell out of the draft entirely, they lured him to Indiana with a $10,000 signing bonus and a total of $35,000 in guarantees -- numbers rarely seen for undrafted free agents.

It was the perfect match for player and team.

Owner Jim Irsay had been openly pining for an elusive Darren Sproles-style satellite back. That's the role offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski dangled in front of Ferguson in a post-draft recruiting pitch.

"We do feel that (Frank) Gore has to be managed, but he has another year," Irsay said Wednesday, via the team's official website. "We do like some of the backs we've added. We think guys like Josh Ferguson have a chance to be special, time will tell."

With the underwhelming quartet of Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman, Trey Williams and Tyler Varga behind the 33-year-old Gore, Ferguson used offseason practices to climb the depth chart and make a lasting impression on the coaching staff.

"It's just in shorts, but he looks really good," coach Chuck Pagano said as the Colts wrapped up minicamp earlier this month. "He's smart. He picks things up in a hurry. He's very, very athletic. He's a great receiver out of the back field. We can split him wide, we can displace him formationally. He's a mismatch out in space. He's got juice. He can go. He's got great vision."

Similar to Sproles and Patriots 2015 sensation Dion Lewis, Ferguson offers quick-twitch lateral agility, joystick moves and the ability to beat linebackers off the line of scrimmage as a receiver.

While Ferguson lacks the power to break tackles in the trenches and the durability to handle a featured back's workload, Pagano insists he's not just a third-down back.

It's certainly not unusual for smaller, quicker backs to impress in the open spaces of offseason non-contact practices.

"The rubber will meet the road when we get to (training camp)," Pagano acknowledged, "and we put the pads on and see if that play speed is the same."

If Ferguson is still making plays once the hitting starts in August, the opportunity will open for a major role in a high-octane offense with serious bounce-back potential.

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