INDIANAPOLIS — The story, honestly, sounded too good to be true.
A text message from Frank Reich to his lead running back, Marlon Mack, right after the Colts traded up in the second round to take Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. Mack, immediately onboard, responding “let’s go get it.”
An exemplary response.
But it had to be incomplete. From the outside looking in, Mack surely had to be upset about the pick in some form or fashion.
Three years into his career, Mack had just established himself as a 1,000-yard back, proved he could carry the load for the Colts’ seventh-ranked rushing attack, and he seemed to be in line for the kind of contract that could make him financially secure long after he left the NFL.
Few people would have taken issue with Mack if he’d responded a little bit differently, if he’d seen the presence of Taylor as a threat to an opportunity Mack worked hard to earn.
Except that he wasn’t hiding anything. Marlon Mack might be too good to be true.
“As a running back, it just motivates you,” Mack said. “It’s a business, but I know we can be great together. Me, I’m more of a team guy.”
Mack, the laid-back, easygoing guy from Florida, and Taylor, the cerebral New Jersey native, have been bonding the past three weeks, the veteran taking the rookie under his wing.
“Being able to connect with Marlon, asking him questions, picking his brain about the game,” Taylor said. “Being able to get as much knowledge and information from him, as far as what to expect, is something I have been doing a ton of.”
Mack is just as impressed with Taylor as everybody else.
The size, the speed, the power, the vision, the entire Taylor skill set is undeniable.
“He’s going to be a beast,” Mack said. “Teams better be ready.”
Mack still has goals in front of him. Firmly established in the NFL, headed into the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, Mack is scheduled to make $2.13 million this year, the first time his base salary has been more than the minimum.
He wants to make more than that. Wants to sign the kind of contract that will give him financial security. The real money in the NFL is made when a player finally escapes his first contract and signs a second.
Mack knows the window to sign one of those deals is only open for a short time.
“Especially as a running back,” Mack said. “We don’t get too many years in the league. That’s a goal for a running back, to get to that second contract, because that’s what you need.”
But he thinks Taylor’s presence might actually help him, might keep him in the NFL a little longer.
Running backs do not get many years in the NFL because of the bruising, brutal nature of their position. Mack knows the physical toll the position takes all too well; he’s missed eight games in his first three seasons. The way the Colts have been forced to use him in the past — he’s had six games with more than 24 carries in the last two years — might have shortened his career.
Taylor’s presence will take some of the load off of Mack’s body.
“It’s probably going to be less carries,” Mack said. “Less carries mean more years, and more years mean more money.”
Mack’s not going to become an afterthought in the Indianapolis offense.
The role is being shared, not taken away entirely. Four days into the Colts training camp, it’s been apparent that would be a mistake. As good as Taylor has looked at times, Mack looks as good as ever, patient and explosive, catching passes out of the backfield, flashing the remarkable vision and symbiotic relationship he has with the Colts offensive line.
“Marlon is the starter,” Reich said. “Marlon has earned it. He’s had a couple of really good years for us, but we’re going to continue to take the same approach we have, where it’s week in, week out, hot hand and all those things.”
Indianapolis is sticking with the Run the Damn Ball approach it established the last two seasons, and the way Reich commits to running the football, there will be plenty of carries for both of the Colts’ talented backs.
The contract will take care of itself.
At least that’s what Mack believes.
“The Good Lord’s going to bless you,” Mack said. “When it’s coming, it’s coming. Just be patient, and work, work, work until you get it.”
When Taylor first met Mack, his impression was that the older runner was like a lot of the Florida guys he’d played with at Wisconsin: Cool, mellow, laid-back and enjoying life.
Pretty good read for a rookie.
Mack’s as driven as they come to prove himself, but he’s also enjoying the fruits his labor has already produced.
“It’s football,” Mack said. “As long as I get to play each week and show my talents, that’s all I really care about. Not too many guys can be in my position already. Be grateful for what you’ve got.”
The Colts better be grateful for the person they’ve got in Marlon Mack.