Ballard will get his first crack at being in the opening lineup after starter Donald Brown underwent knee surgery earlier this week. According to Michael Fabiano of NFL.com, Brown's recovery will take two or three weeks, giving Ballard plenty of time to make an impact.
Drafted in the fifth round out of Mississippi State, Ballard faced an uphill battle to make the final roster. Regardless, he came into camp and impressed the coaching staff enough to grab the No. 2 running back spot with a strong work ethic that has been apparent his entire career.
After spending two years excelling at the junior college level, the 5'10", 217-pound back arrived at Mississippi State in a similar situation to the one he experienced in Indianapolis.
Nonetheless, he gained the starter's job in Starkville and excelled while facing top-notch SEC opponents. In two seasons with the Bulldogs, Ballard ran for 2,157 yards, scored 29 touchdowns and was one of the conference's most underrated backs.
In fact, one has to wonder whether Mississippi State's scheme kept Ballard from becoming a bigger collegiate star. Playing running back in a spread-option attack, he essentially split carries with quarterback Chris Relf, whose effectiveness was suspect, to say the least.
Sunday's game against the Jets will be an opportunity to see Ballard in a system far more conducive to his success.
While the rookie comes into Week 6 with just 42 yards on 21 carries, he'll get an opportunity to face a porous New York run defense. Once a vaunted unit, the Jets' defense comes into Week 6 ranked 31st in the NFL against the run, giving up an astounding 172.4 yards per game.
Key to those struggles has been the precipitous fall from grace by all of the Jets' top defensive stars.
After being a leader on two straight teams that went to the AFC Championship game, linebacker Bart Scott has seemingly become a shell of his former self. Slow on his feet and sometimes out of position, Scott's struggles have left middle linebacker David Harris to do almost all the work.
Unfortunately for New York, Harris' play has not been much better than Scott's, all of which has allowed running backs to turn what should be three- and four- yard runs into six- and seven-yard gains.
Considering Ballard should get plenty of carries between the numbers on Sunday, that should mean big things for the Colts rookie.
What's more, there should be even better openings than usual this week, as Rex Ryan will certainly scheme heavily against the pass. Top pick Andrew Luck has been excellent through the air, and with the Jets losing cornerback Darrelle Revis for the season, it's seems apparent that New York will drop back into coverage and force the Colts to run.
With all of these factors in his favor, Ballard could not be taking over the starting job at a better time.
Look for him to have a career-making game against the Jets en route to creating a minor running-back controversy in Indianapolis.
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