INDIANAPOLIS -- Marlon Mack equates his running style to what he had to deal with starting in the preseason opener in early August.
The Indianapolis Colts running back has been speedy his entire his life. But just like with his hamstring injury, Mack forced himself to stay calm and let things come together when running the ball. He has to let the play develop the same way he had to remain patient while letting his injuries heal.
"They go hand-in-hand," the soft-spoken Mack said. "One of the things I learned from Frank [Gore] last season was to have patience because the play will come together."
Mack's patience in learning, watching and picking the brain of Gore last season is paying dividends now for him and the Colts, as he's turning into the running back Andrew Luck and the organization have been waiting to see for years. Mack became the first Colts running back in 11 years to rush for at least 100 yards in back-to-back games when he ran for 126 and 132 yards against Buffalo and Oakland, respectively, the past two weeks. He continues to lock in his role as the team's No. 1 back.
"You knew it was there with him," Gore said. "You saw the potential last season. It was just a matter of him continuing to work and put it all together."
That was one of the first things Gore told Tom Rathman when he was hired as the Colts' running backs coach last winter. Rathman trusted Gore's opinion the same way Gore trusted Rathman as his running backs coach with the San Francisco 49ers.
"Frank goes, 'He really, really has the ability to be a really good player,'" Rathman said. "I liked hearing that."
Gore, who spent three seasons with the Colts and is fourth on the NFL's all-time rushing list, isn't one to throw around praise. Owner Jim Irsay also spoke highly of Mack, saying in training camp that he thought the second-year back could rush for 1,500 yards this season.
Rushing for 1,500 yards is only wishful thinking right now because Mack suffered a hamstring injury in the preseason opener on Aug. 9. He didn't play again until the Week 2 game at Washington, and then he missed three more games with another hamstring injury.
It's not by coincidence that the Colts have won three of the four games Mack has played in this season. He brings a dimension to the Colts' offense that they've been missing and complements rookies Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins while easing some of Luck's workload. Mack is averaging 5.8 yards per carry on his 66 rushing attempts this season. His four rushes of at least 20 yards are three fewer than that of Pittsburgh's James Conner and the Giants' Saquon Barkley, and he has played in at least three fewer games.
"Just patient, explosive, tough," Colts coach Frank Reich said of Mack. "Just runs tough. He's getting tough yards. He's getting explosive yards. He's getting patient. He's seeing we're all trusting him. He's just been playing really well and playing great in the pass game. He's doing great in protection. Honestly, at first I thought when he came back we should keep him out of some pass situations, let him gradually [get back in it]. He's doing great in pass situations and protection as well."
The confidence in Mack -- and the offensive line -- was evident in Sunday's 42-28 victory over the Raiders when the Colts, down 28-21 at the time, had the ball at third-and-goal from Oakland's 4-yard line.
For many years, that play screamed pass with Luck at quarterback. Not on this afternoon. Reich called a run play on which Mack found the hole created by the line to plunge ahead for a touchdown to tie the score at 28. Mack's average of 3.35 yards before contact is sixth in the NFL, and his 2.27 yards after contact are 10th.
"He has such good vision," Colts center Ryan Kelly said. "I think he understands where the runs are going to be, and he lets the play develop before making his cut. It's a tough position to play as a young guy. I can't imagine playing back there. He's come along after battling injuries. He's a tough guy who runs hard and is hard to bring down."
Rathman is an old-school player who spent eight seasons playing with the 49ers with the likes of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig, so it's easy to understand why he's rarely completely satisfied. He referred to Mack being "iffy" in the team's passing game. Rathman believes Mack needs to improve his route running and blocking as he continues to take his game to another level.
"Hopefully we get the best out of him," Rathman said. "That's what we're looking for from all these guys. He's showing the willingness. Still working on technique. But he's working on it, trying to get better at it. ... He's a great listener in the classroom."