Now that Frank Gore is in Miami and veteran running back Robert Turbin is suspended for the first four games of the season, the competition for carries in the Colts' backfield is wide open.
Although promising rookies Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins have impressed in offseason and early camp practices, owner Jim Irsay suggested that second-year back Marlon Mack offers the best chance for a breakout campaign in 2018.
"I think Mack has a chance to be a special guy this year," Irsay raved Friday, via the Indianapolis Star. "Depends on how many times you want to feed him the ball, 16-20 touches on the ground [per game] and I could see him approaching 1,500 yards [for the season]. I really could. He is just better than you think he is every time you watch him."
A boom-or-bust big-play threat whose elusiveness is enhanced by the fast track at Lucas Oil Stadium, Mack recorded 358 yards on 93 rushes (3.8 yards per carry) as Gore's backup last season. In the wake of April's draft, general manager Chris Ballard revealed that the 2017 fourth-round pick played his entire rookie season with a torn labrum that would eventually require surgery.
Now healthy for the first time as a pro, Mack is vying with Hines and Wilkins to establish a backfield pecking order for September. If he manages to emerge as a featured back with a heavy workload, Mack should have a shot at breaking the 1,000-yard mark in his second season.
Barring a plague of injuries to Hines, Wilkins and Turbin, however, Irsay's optimistic projection for Mack appears to be a pipe dream.
New coach Frank Reich comes from Philadelphia, where the Super Bowl champions succeeded with a weekly backfield rotation that incorporated three or four backs in a situational attack meant to play to each runner's strengths. Judging by offseason and early camp practices, Reich plans to run a similar operation in Indianapolis, with Mack, Hines and Wilkins splitting touches depending on opponent, situation and game momentum.
Irsay believes Reich's innovative offense has the potential to generate "Star Wars-type numbers" with a healthy Andrew Luck at the helm this season. If that indeed is the case, Mack's nascent breakout campaign may be measured more accurately with a spike in per-touch efficiency as opposed to a run at the NFL's rushing crown.