Colts re-up with Marlon Mack

Marlon Mack has another chance.

His new contract with the Indianapolis Colts allows him to start again, and that’s exactly what he hopes comes out of the fresh deal — being able to start again.

Mack was a forgotten man last season, consigned to the sideline in Game 1 of 16 games, a torn Achilles tendon ruining his game just as he was emerging as an NFL All-Star running back.

Not his fault. It was a horrible moment, nothing fair about it. For the Colts, it was a huge moment of uncertainty watching the linchpin of the running game crumple. For rookie Jonathan Taylor, the collegiate star from Wisconsin, it was nearly as big a moment of reckoning as it was for Mack.

The phrase Next Man Up is so common in the National Football League because so many players get hurt, and teams that can’t make up for their loss end up missing the playoffs.

Mack is 6 feet tall, weighs 210 pounds and was a fourth-round Colts draft pick out of South Florida in 2017. In 2018 and 2019, he began making diesel-like rumbling noises out of the backfield. He rushed for 908 yards in ’18 and 1,091 yards in ’19.

There was no doubt about his starting slot in the lineup under coach Frank Reich. He had matured and developed and was primed for a special 2020. Then bang. And when it comes to tearing an Achilles, bang may well be the sound heard.

This is not like spraining an ankle, where you rest and wrap up the sore spot and come back in a few weeks. You don’t come back for months, and you hope you can come back to top form at all.

Mack signed a new arrangement with the Colts on Tuesday as a free agent. They were willing to take a chance. Mack said a few other teams expressed interest, but certainly the depth of that interest could not have run ocean deep after his trauma.

“Indy was always a place that I would like to come back to,” Mack said Wednesday. “Indy was the best for me. ”

It is not as if Mack is ready to step on the field and run repeat 40s. But he is optimistic his Achilles and health are in a good place, that his rehab is progressing.

Athletes who suffer such disappointments are as motivated as any who exist, angry, determined, with much to prove and the incentive to do so.

“I’ve been killing it, man, these past few months,” Mack said of his workouts.

Mack started 2020 as the No. 1 back. Reich counts on the running game quite heavily, and for a time, there were carries by committee. Steadily, gradually, Taylor took charge, became the new boss of the running game.

As the Colts finished 11-5 and reached the playoffs, Taylor took on more responsibility. He rushed for 1,169 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. In the last regular-season game against Jacksonville, Taylor set an Indianapolis team rushing record of 253 yards for one game.

Mack was in no position to help the ground game in any way but cheering on his teammates. He watched forlornly as the world went on, the Colts went on, the running game went on. He couldn’t even claim he was truly missed given how Taylor picked up the baton.

“It was kind of bittersweet,” Mack said. “But I always knew it was going to take off. I just wish I could’ve contributed a little bit more.”

Professional athletes are used to highly functioning swift and powerful bodies. They hate when they are betrayed by their own skin, demoralized when they cannot do what they are supposed to do.

This can be especially difficult at first when an injury initially intrudes. It is easy to become depressed.

“The mental process was tough,” Mack said. “But actually, me keep going in the building helped me out, and talking football with the guys each and every week, that helped me a bunch because if I was just sitting at home and not seeing the guys in the training room or the guys keeping my hopes up, it would’ve been pretty hard on me.”

Last year, at the beginning of the season, Mack was for sure the No. 1 running back with Taylor expected to gain seasoning. A year later, Taylor has the edge.

Mack is like a rookie again, needing to prove himself all over because his Achilles let him down. Resigning him is a low-risk Colts investment. If he can be as good as his old self, he will be a bargain hire.