ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — Colts running back Vick Ballard spent 10 months working his way back from a serious injury.
Now he has to do it again.
On Saturday, coach Chuck Pagano confirmed Indianapolis’ worst fear – that Ballard tore his left Achilles’ tendon and will need season-ending surgery.
“It’s heartbreaking for me, man. Vick’s a brother to me,” running back Ahmad Bradshaw said. “I was taking pride in helping him out a whole lot and trying to improve both our games and helping each other, him and Trent (Richardson) also. It’s just heartbreaking for me to see that happen and all I can do is just help him fight through this.”
It’s the second straight year Ballard sustained a freak injury in practice without being touched.
Last September, he tore the ACL in his right knee while making a cut in practice and missed the final 15 games. After undergoing surgery and spending all those countless hours strengthening his right leg, Ballard was finally cleared to practice at the start of training camp.
He made it through morning walkthroughs Thursday and Friday and a light workout in helmets and shorts Thursday afternoon before he was injured on another innocuous-looking play – falling down as he tried to catch a pass without a defender in the vicinity.
When Ballard got up, he struggled to put weight on his leg, was eventually helped to a golf cart and driven into the locker room.
Friday night’s MRI confirmed the initial diagnosis and the Colts’ worst fears.
“We feel awful for Vick. He’s been a warrior for us, going down with the knee a year ago, non-contact injury,” Pagano said. “Same thing this year, the way he fought, battled, rehabbed, and trained to get back, it’s very, very unfortunate. Injuries do occur. It’s a part of the game, it’s an ugly part of the game.”
Team owner Jim Irsay attended Friday’s practice and provided the first indication the injury was serious when he called Ballard a young player who could come back and still have a solid NFL career.
A few hours later, Ballard used his Twitter account to inform fans that he was going “back in the shop” and that one day he would have a great story to tell.
Ballard was one of five key offensive players the Colts were hoping would return to form after missing more than half of last season. The list also included tight end Dwayne Allen, Bradshaw, starting guard Donald Thomas and perennial Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne. All five had been practicing this week.
The Colts thought Ballard and Bradshaw, who had neck surgery last October, and Richardson’s expected improvement in his second season may finally give Indy the powerful ground game they want. Ballard rushed for a team-high 814 yards as a rookie in 2012 and 63 yards in last season’s opener before the knee injury.
But his absence creates a big hole in those plans, just as the Colts started practicing in pads.
Bradshaw took his first hits Saturday afternoon and survived unscathed. Richardson missed Friday’s afternoon practice and sat out again Saturday for “precautionary” reasons with what Pagano described as a soft tissue injury. Fullback Stanley Havili is on the physically unable to perform list as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.
That leaves only five other running backs on Indy’s roster – Chris Rainey and Daniel “Boom” Herron, who were signed during last year’s injury-filled season, undrafted rookies Zurlon Tipton and Cameron White and Mario Harvey, who has been moved from linebacker to fullback.
Pagano said he and general manager Ryan Grigson are still deciding whether to sign another running back, but acknowledged that Ballard’s absence gives a chance to someone else.
“We’re not just going to hand it to Ahmad 50 times today and let him get blown up, too,” Pagano said. “So it’s a great opportunity for those (other five) guys.”
For Ballard, it’s another year of grueling rehab.
“I talked to him yesterday after practice and he’s in good spirits,” Bradshaw said “I think he just feels bad that it’s two years in a row. He loves football, his passion for football is there. Like I said, he’s just heartbroken right now.”