Bradshaw was the best running back left in free agency, and arguably the most dynamic free agent of any position still available.
With his signing, he immediately becomes the most talented back on the Colts' roster, joining Vick Ballard and Donald Brown in the Colts' three-man rotation at running back. While Ballard was slotted for the starting spot, he likely will get pushed back by Bradshaw.
But, even with the Bradshaw signing, Ballard won't be frozen out of the rotation. Bradshaw may be the most talented, and is the most experienced and proven back, but the Colts aren't going to keep Ballard on the sideline.
Last month, a few weeks before the Bradshaw signing, Tom James reported some interesting takeaways after talking to running backs coach David Walker:
RB coach David Walker likes the rotation system at RB. Is happy with Ballard and Brown as 1-2 punch. Waiting to see who will be No. 3.— Tom James (@TribStarTJames) May 22, 2013
Walker wanted to have a three-man rotation at running back, and that doesn't change with Bradshaw coming into the fold. By looking at Walker's last two seasons with the Colts, we can see that he has had multiple backs with at least 100 attempts in each year.
Of course, the biggest factor that will ensure Ballard's role is the injury history of Bradshaw and Brown. Both backs have only had one 16-game season in their respective careers, and the likelihood of them both staying completely healthy all year is low.
By spreading the workload over the three backs (although mostly between Bradshaw and Ballard), the Colts can lower the risk of injury as well as utilize the backs' different skill sets.
In 2012, Ballard was used in varying ways, but he may get a bit of a tighter focus in 2013.
While Bradshaw and Brown have speed and elusiveness in space on the outside, Ballard doesn't quite have the speed or moves to excel in space. Ballard's strengths were his downhill running; he was most successful when he was able to take the handoff and run directly through the hole without worrying about cutting or finding the correct lane.
For an example, here is an up-the-gut play from the Colts' win over the Texans in Week 17 last season.
Ballard uses his strength and momentum to gain eight yards in minimal space, and a first down.
This was how Ballard gained most of his yards in 2012, taking the ball inside and plowing straight ahead in limited space.
In Pep Hamilton's blocking scheme, which uses zone-blocking concepts, the backs are forced to use their vision a bit more than Ballard may be ready for. The zone-blocking scheme allows for cutbacks to take advantage of a stretched out defense, but is completely dependent on the running back's read of the defenders. A back without great speed can excel in this scheme, but they must have excellent vision and quick feet.
Ballard didn't show this to be his strength last season, but at times he flashed the ability to see the correct path and make quick cuts into space.
For example, check out these two plays from last season.
First is an inside run against the Titans in Week 14. The run is designed to go between the center and right guard, but Samson Satele is beaten by the linebacker. Ballard makes a quick jump cut to the left, squeezing between the left tackle and left guard for a seven-yard gain.
Second is another play from the Week 17 win against the Texans. The play has two options, one for Ballard to pound the ball up the middle, the other is to bounce it outside around the stunting right guard. Ballard sees the clogged middle and bounces it outside.
With Ballard's strong rookie season, there's reason to believe he can improve. With the Colts' plan to run with a committee, he will definitely have the opportunity to.