The Indianapolis Colts are trying to improve their running game. Ahmad Bradshaw is the latest piece of the puzzle.
On Tuesday, the unrestricted free agent from Bluefield, Va., signed with the Colts, who added a veteran running back to their crowded backfield. He is expected to join the team at its mandatory mini-camp Wednesday.
The 27-year-old Bradshaw left his previous NFL team, the New York Giants, in February, one of a handful of high-salaried players released as part of roster purge intended to clear up salary cap room and bring in younger talent.
He ran for 1,015 yards on 221 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and scored six touchdowns last season but missed four games with injuries. Rookie David Wilson, who played at Virginia Tech, got more touches in his absence.
Bradshaw ranks sixth in the Giants’ long franchise history with 4,232 rushing yards.
In his high school career, Bradshaw scored 92 touchdowns and ran for 5,265 yards, averaging almost 10 yards per carry for the Graham G-Men. He was named Virginia High School League Group AA player of the year.
In three seasons on the Marshall University football team, he tallied 36 touchdowns, rushing for 2,982 yards and catching 87 passes for 697 yards.
Bradshaw figures to battle with second-year running back Vick Ballard, who led the team in rushing as a rookie, for a prime role in the backfield and with Donald Brown, now in his fifth year. Delone Carter is also in the mix.
“He brings just a veteran presence,” Ballard said of Bradshaw. “He’s won two Super Bowls, so obviously he knows how to get it done. He can not only help the team, but he can help the running back group as a whole.”
Indy now has nine running backs on the roster, including seventh-round draft pick Kerwynn Williams and fullback Stanley Havili, who was acquired in a March trade with Philadelphia. Williams is listed at 5-foot-8, 195 pounds. But the other five backs have a combined total of six NFL carries, all by Havili last season.
In seven seasons with the Giants, Bradshaw played in 84 of 96 games, starting 33 and rushed for 4,232 yards and 32 touchdowns. He is best known for scoring the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl two years ago on an awkward flop. The play gave the Giants a 21-17 victory over New England.
Other than drafting Williams in the seventh round and trading for Havili, the Colts didn’t make any significant moves in the backfield.
Pagano has made a point to make the running game stronger and more balanced and have made moves to get there. Last year, Indy was No. 22 in the league rushing at 104.4 yards a game.
Pagano said he’s wanted a solid rushing attack from day one. As a rookie last year, Ballard led the team in rushing with 50.9 yards a game and just two touchdowns. Bradshaw knows Ballard has earned a big role with the Colts, but wants a shot at the top spot, too.
“I like having the load on my back,” he said. “But Vick, he’s proved himself and I don’t mind coming in and helping those guys out as much as I can.”
Indy spent much of the offseason fortifying its defense and an offensive line that gave up far too many hits on Andrew Luck last season. The Colts signed nine veteran free agents including right tackle Gosder Cherilus and guard Donald Thomas.
Those are additions to an already experienced front lineup that includes tackle Anthony Castonzo who is “perfecting technique” to help the game on the ground.
“Every lineman loves the run game,” he said. “If you can get into the game and control the run game and just pass when you have to, that’s the best game for the offensive line. Everybody loves the run game.”
Indy showed spurts of success running the ball last year, but never found consistency running the ball. This season, it’s a must.
“We have to get it going,” receiver T.Y Hilton said. “You can’t be one dimensional and just pass because defenses will sit on that. Once we get Vick, Donald and the running game going, we should be excellent.”
And now Bradshaw, who will just add to the mix.
“I feel this offense is young and they need a spark and I can be that spark they can use,” he said. “With me, I feel that I can touch the ball every down and be effective.”