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Is Marlon Mack Ready for a Starting Running Back Role?

The Colts want to expand the role for rookie running back Marlon Mack. Should Mack be starting ahead of Frank Gore?

Stacy Revere | Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS – The Marlon Mack starting chatter has already started.

The more open field space Mack touched on Sunday afternoon against the 49ers, the more people chimed in wanting to see the rookie running back rise up the depth chart.

Putting the depth chart aside for one minute, the Colts are going to grow the role for Mack.

“It’d be wise to try to find ways to get him the football and get him more involved,” head coach Chuck Pagano said on Monday, after Mack had 10 touches in 17 snaps against San Fran, which is already a very high ratio of touches for a reserve running back.

“I think that would’ve happened by itself had he been available the entire time (a shoulder injury sidelined Mack in Weeks 3 and 4). But it’s good to have him back. It was great having him out there yesterday. Marlon is a change of pace guy, he’s a speed guy. He’s an edge guy. When he gets outside on the perimeter he’s dangerous and we all saw that.”

Mack is certainly the most dangerous runner the Colts have had in quite some time, dating back to the Peyton Manning years.

Last year, the Indy running backs had just one run all season long of more than 20 yards.

They already have three such plays this season, all from Mack, even though the rookie has played in just three games.

The spark in Mack’s game is apparent, and needed.

Of Mack’s 25 carries this season, a handful have gone for at least 10 yards.

But before the Colts suddenly move Mack up the depth chart, two areas of progression are needed.

Mack still lacks in consistent production, particularly with interior runs. Of those 25 carries, 11 of them have gone for either no gain, or been a negative play.

You also have to factor in the blocking responsibilities that are now present for Mack.

In college, Mack was hardly asked to do much pass protection. That has changed in the NFL and it’s something that Chuck Pagano points to before rookie runners can become every-down backs.

Right now, how the Colts are currently using Mack offers a really nice change of pace within their offense.

With Frank Gore starting the game, the Colts can then insert Mack in an effort to try and catch an opposing defense in a bit of a lull. It’s like a pitcher pounding a lineup with off-speed pitches early on (aka Gore and even Robert Turbin, who is still Mr. Reliable in short yardage) before trying to run the fastball (aka Mack) past hitters.

Mack’s ability to create yards off-script is a luxury and the Colts are going to continue to design more action for their explosive runner.

Do we start to see more of Mack in the passing game, using quick hitters to give him added/high-percentage touches, especially in the open field?

At this point of his career, Mack’s effectiveness as an inside runner is not there. But the Colts can still involve him in draws and delayed handoffs to try and expose the middle of the field, as defenses will surely be more worried about Mack reaching the edges.

Plus you have concern about the current durability of Mack, as a shoulder injury has plagued him in his rookie campaign.

Don’t get me wrong, the Colts can, and definitely need to, use Mack a lot.

But starting Mack at this point of the season would be a mistake, until he shows the ability for more consistency (in-between the tackles and in pass protection).

An uptick of Mack’s touches does need to be in the plan going forward, as this offense will not come close to its potential if this element is ignored.

“It’s a nice piece to have,” Pagano says of Mack. “No matter if he’s next to the quarterback or you motion him or line him up out of the backfield and you get into some empty situations.

“You get those playmakers, you get them out in space and you’re going to create the matchups that you want. He’s a tough matchup.”

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