INDIANAPOLIS — Cardboard boxes and jumbo-sized trash bags made their presence felt in a big way Monday inside the locker room at the Indianapolis Colts Complex.
Players would have preferred not to view these symbols of finality for at least another couple of weeks. However, Sunday’s 24-9 wild-card playoff loss at Baltimore meant Monday would be devoted to removing belongings from one’s locker, what with the offseason having officially begun.
Vick Ballard knows all about cleaning out a football locker, having previously done so at Pascagoula (Miss.) High School, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and, most recently, Mississippi State University.
This one stung most of all.
“This is definitely a little bit harder. In college I was ready for the next level,” said the 5-foot-10, 217-pound rookie running back who speaks softly but carries a big shoulder chip.
Looking back at the nameplate above his Colts locker, he added, “At this level, if you keep your locker you’re doing good.”
Ballard figures he’ll keep his. After all, he rushed for 814 yards and two touchdowns during the regular season before adding 91 yards on 22 carries Sunday.
A big factor in Indianapolis distancing itself from its finesse reputation of the Peyton Manning years was the running of Ballard, whose second, third and sometimes fourth efforts immediately earned him the respect of teammates and coaches.
In his customary low-key manner, Ballard addressed his performance this season.
“Even though we lost, we shouldn’t hang our heads because everyone doubted us and didn’t expect us to do as well as we did,” Ballard said. “It had its ups and downs. I think I did pretty good from where I started at. The fact I was able to contribute as much as I did, I’m satisfied.”
Ballard’s first four carries as a pro came in the 41-21 loss at Chicago to open the 2012 season Sept. 9. Gradually his workload increased, his productivity coupled with Donald Brown’s season-ending ankle injury resulting in 12 or more carries in 10 of the team’s last 11 regular-season games.
He also proved adept as a receiver with 17 catches for 152 yards and a score.
Ballard made the absolute most of his single touchdown reception, as it’s the frequently YouTubed 16-yard overtime game-winner at Tennessee back on Oct. 28. That was the one where Ballard hauled in a screen pass from quarterback Andrew Luck six yards behind the line of scrimmage, leaped from the Titans’ 5-yard line, got helicoptered around in midair and glanced the pylon with the left side of his helmet for the winning points.
If Colts fans didn’t know exactly who Ballard was prior to that, they did after it.
Ballard admitted Monday that after 233 carries and countless attempts at throwing blocks for teammates, his body is in need of rest even though his frame has grown used to the punishment.
As a senior at Mississippi State in 2011 he ran the football 193 times, which was only seven more times than the season before. Of course, Ballard may never duplicate or exceed his 2009 total of 297 carries in 12 games (that’s 24.8 per) at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Ballard isn’t the fastest Colt, nor is he the strongest. In time he may prove to be the most durable.
“Going from football pretty much every day to nothing ... now I’m cleaning out my locker,” Ballard said. “For everything to come to a complete stop, it’s kind of crazy.”