The Indianapolis Colts made the playoffs last year, but it was no thanks to the ground game.
The Colts ranked 20th in the NFL in rushing in 2013, in large part due to injuries that ravaged the position.
The team was hopeful that with a full complement of backs in the fold, Indianapolis would be able to field a much more balanced offense in 2014.
Those hopes made it all of one day into camp before being dashed.
As Mike Chappell of The Indianapolis Star reported, third-year running back Vick Ballard, who missed almost the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL, is feared lost for the 2014 season as well with a torn Achilles tendon suffered in practice Friday:
It's a crushing blow for Ballard, whom the Colts were counting on to serve in a change-of-pace role in 2014. In fact, Ballard was hoping for even more, telling ESPN.com's Mike Wells recently he was ready to take back the starting job he lost to last year's knee injury:
I understand the situation, but I was the starter before I got hurt. I would have done the same thing if I was the GM. It's a business and at the end of the day, I understand what they did, but I want to be the H-back.
So much for that idea.
It's also a big blow to a Colts team suffering through a bad case of deja vu.
That is, until you consider Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson:
Vick Ballard hurt at camp. He's projected as #Colts change of pace back. "We gained rushing yards. What a change of pace!"— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) July 25, 2014
Bradshaw may well have been the Colts' most effective running back on a per-game basis in 2013, but the 28-year-old made it only three games before a neck injury ended his season. Bradshaw has now missed 19 games over the past three years and has played in 16 games only once in the past five seasons.
Richardson, on the other hand, was a disaster by just about every objective measure after coming over early in the season in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. The former third overall pick has averaged an anemic 3.3 yards per carry over his first two NFL seasons.
As Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star recently pointed out, 2014 is a do-or-die season for Richardson:
Let's be honest: We didn't see much of anything from Richardson last year. Didn't see the burst. Didn't see the speed. Didn't see the power. Didn't see the instincts. And Richardson knows it.
He's never hid from the fact that last season was a monumental disappointment. He has remained accessible and accountable from the moment he arrived in Indianapolis in exchange for a first-round pick. But it's put up or shut up time. And he knows it.
Well, the pressure just ratcheted up another notch or two.
Granted, the Colts have been saying all the right things about Richardson, stating that the youngster just needed more time in the system. As head coach Chuck Pagano said (via Kravitz), "Now he has a better understanding scheme wise, why we're calling things, how we run plays, having a better feel for the guys he's playing with. He's obviously in a lot better place than he's been in quite a while."
Ballard may not have been a worldbeater, but at the very least, he added some depth to the Indy backfield and gave the team another option if Bradshaw and/or Richardson faltered.
Now, the Colts will have little recourse but to rely on one back who hasn't been able to stay healthy and another who's done next to nothing in two NFL seasons.
Or, perhaps more likely, just as in 2013, the Colts are going to have to rely on Andrew Luck's right arm if the team is going to win the AFC South for a second straight year.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.