|Colts' Hart living big after impressive debut|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 05 August 2008 13:55|
The Indianapolis Colts scoured Hart's game films and found a football player.
Hart, Michigan's career rushing leader, slid through nearly six rounds of April's draft primarily because too many teams paid more attention to his poor time in the 40-yard dash than the traits that made him one of the nation's best running backs: desire, determination and the ability to make tacklers miss.
So the 5-foot-9, 206-pound rookie finds himself vying for a spot in the Colts' crowded backfield and perhaps on special teams.
``It's fun. There's lots of competition back there,'' Hart said after Tuesday's practices. ``Anytime there's competition, it's a good time. Every day you come out here to compete, and you can't have a bad day out here.''
What the Colts have seen from Hart has impressed them.
They like his work ethic, his personality, the way he fits into the locker room setting and, of course, what he's been able to do on the field.
During Sunday's preseason opener against Washington, Hart looked more like the players his high school and college fans remember than the one who clocked a pedestrian 4.7 seconds in his predraft 40.
The darting cuts allowed him to dodge tacklers and find open space. He caught three passes for 28 yards, giving him an average of 11.3 yards each time he touched the ball. And, most important in Indy's one-back offense, Hart did a solid job blocking the bigger, faster pass rushers he'll face if he makes the team.
Colts coach Tony Dungy wasn't surprised.
``When you watch him practice and watch him work, we felt he'd have a good game,'' Dungy said. ``He did everything that he was called on to do. ... That's probably what he's been doing for eight or nine years.''
For Hart, it's yet another step forward in a career many thought improbable because of his small frame.
But wherever he's played, Hart has produced record-setting numbers.
At Onondaga Central High School in rural New York state, Hart led his team to three state titles and set national marks for career touchdowns (204), most consecutive 100-yard games (47) and career points (1,246).
When he arrived at Michigan, weighing in at 192 pounds, his new teammates weren't sure if he could live up to the hype.
Hart proved even better. He won the starting job at midseason and wound up winning the Big Ten rushing title (1,455 yards) and the conference's freshman of the year award.
Over the next three seasons, Hart never stopped delivering. He finished as the Big Ten's No. 4 career rusher (5,040 yards) and set school records for 100-yard games (28) and 200-yard games (five). His most notable accomplishment, though, came last season when he almost single-handedly saved the reeling Wolverines after an 0-2 start.
While some teams bypassed Hart in the draft because of his size, injury history and 40 time, the Colts thought he fit their offense and finally took Hart with the 202nd pick.
Hart has embraced the opportunity despite having four veterans - Pro Bowler Joseph Addai, Dominic Rhodes, Kenton Keith and Clifton Dawson - ahead of him on the depth chart.
``You have to go out there and do the right thing every time, just like practice,'' he said.
The Colts typically keep four or five running backs, and barring injury the top two spots almost certainly will go to Addai and Rhodes, the tandem that led Indy to a Super Bowl title two years ago. There should be a strong competition for the remaining spots.
Keith spent last season as Addai's backup but was arrested in April on a charge of criminal trespassing because he allegedly refused to leave a nightclub parking lot that was being cleared by police. Dawson played sparingly last season and is now expected to miss a couple of days of practice with a strained knee.
Hart has stayed healthy and the way he's playing, the Colts think they may be on to something.
``I'm going through there (the Hall of Fame) and looking at (former Steelers center) Mike Webster,'' Dungy said. ``Mike was too short and not fast enough, and just blocked everybody in high school and college and blocked people in the NFL. Guys that are super productive, they find a way to get the job done.''