INDIANAPOLIS -- The initial meeting -- sometime after last spring's draft -- wasn’t a lengthy conversation.
But some six-plus months after Mack was selected in the fourth round, the rookie’s locker is right next to Gore’s, and the veteran has embraced being a mentor for his potential replacement.
“I want to make sure he's ready once I leave here," Gore, who's set to be a free agent after this season, said of Mack. "One thing I really love about him is that he really listens to me and our running-back coach [Jemal Singleton]. When you tell him something he tries his best to get it done. That’s a plus to him. As long he keeps working, pays attention to detail, he has a chance to be a special kid in this league.”
Gore, 34, could have easily been territorial about the running back position after coach Chuck Pagano said the Colts had to find ways to get Mack, 21, more touches in the backfield. But Gore is realistic. He knows he’s no longer in the prime of his career, where he can be the only running back.
“That’s not me anymore,” Gore said. “I know I can still play this game at a high level, but I also know I can’t take all the carries anymore. I want to make sure when I leave here that Marlon is fully ready to take over.”
Mack got a glimpse of Gore’s work ethic in February. Mack was in Miami to prepare for the NFL scouting combine when Gore was also working out there, barely a month after he rushed for 1,025 yards on 263 carries in his 12th season. A lot of NFL players are still recovering from the season at that time. Not Gore.
“And he was going hard, too,” Mack said. “That’s one of the reasons why he’s been great.”
Mack became Gore’s primary backup when veteran Robert Turbin was lost for the season due to an elbow injury suffered against Tennessee in Week 6. Mack has rushed for 212 yards on 52 carries to go with 10 catches for 110 yards and a total of three touchdowns this season.
Gore does most of his talking with Mack during film sessions. One thing the rookie out of the University of South Florida has excelled at has been his ability to get to the edge and turn the corner. But Gore, known for running between the tackles, often reminds Mack that teams aren’t going to continue to allow him to use his speed to turn the corner. He’s going to need to add more to his repertoire to reach his potential.
“Everyone knows he has a lot of speed and he can get around the corner, so they’re trying to bracket him off, so I try to teach him little stuff like that,” Gore said. “You have to have more than just speed.”
One of Mack’s biggest struggles has been as a blocker on passing downs. The Colts (3-6) paid the price for that late in the first half against the Houston Texans in Week 9.
Mack, who was lined up to the right of quarterback Jacoby Brissett, failed to slide over and block blitzing Texans safety Eddie Pleasant. Pleasant took advantage of the free shot to hit Brissett and cause a fumble. Lamarr Houston scooped up the loose ball and took it 34 yards for the touchdown to cut the Colts' lead to 10-7 just before the half. Mack only had one carry for three yards in the second half of the game.
It was definitely a lesson for Mack. Gore was one of the first players to talk to the rookie afterward.
“That [mistake] was definitely hard to swallow,” Mack said. “Frank and the coaches always tell me, 'Next play, next play.' This situation for me has been great because I have a legend playing in front of me. He’s been great to learn from on the field, the practice field, the film room and the locker room.”