Colts need Deon Cain to step up as injuries deplete receiving corps
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – This hasn’t been what anyone expected, including Deon Cain.
Not after attacking an arduous rehabilitation regimen when a knee injury robbed him of his rookie season. And certainly not after an offseason and training camp during which on a daily basis he showed why the Indianapolis Colts were so geeked with the potential he showed before and after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the 2018 preseason opener at Seattle.
But here we are. Waiting.
“Just still developing, man,’’ Cain admitted Wednesday. “I’m still a work in progress. I’m still a rookie into this game and I’m not going to try to rush anything.
“I’m not going to say I’m going to jump in and be who I was (before the injury).’’
But it’s game 9 and the Colts still are waiting for Cain to recapture the flash that was so evident in Westfield and during his second preseason. It’s easy to forget the 2018 sixth-round draft pick generated 12 catches for a team-high 169 yards and one TD.
That’s been replaced by a lack of production when the games have counted: four catches for 52 yards on 14 targets in seven games, including one catch for 7 yards in his last four games. He was a healthy scratch against Denver.
Cain actually has been responsible for more yards on passes he hasn’t caught. A pair of deep shots at Tennessee and Kansas City resulted in defensive interference penalties that netted 46 and 53 yards.
And it’s not as if he hasn’t been given opportunities. Cain has been on the field for 229 snaps, roughly 40 percent of the offensive plays.
There’s still plenty of time for him to establish himself as a legitimate option in the passing game, starting with Sunday’s game against Miami at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Yeah, man, because a lot of guys are going down,’’ Cain said. “We’re just going into the second half of the season.
“We’ve still got enough time, but I also really need to get on my horse and start doing things in this offense.’’
T.Y. Hilton likely will miss a second straight game with a calf injury. Rookie Parris Campbell is out after suffering a fractured hand at Pittsburgh. Devin Funchess remains on injured reserved after sustaining a shoulder injury in the opener against the Los Angeles Chargers.
That has greatly thinned the receivers’ room. The healthy ones on the active roster: Zach Pascal, Chester Rogers, Cain and Ashton Dulin. It’s possible the Colts will elevate another wideout from the practice squad, either Marcus Johnson or Chad Williams.
Pascal has seized on his increased opportunities. He has 19 receptions and already has eclipsed career bests with 321 yards and four TDs. Rogers has been inconsistent – 12 catches, 125 yards and two TDs, but three drops, including two at Pittsburgh – while Dulin has yet to be targeted while serving as a special teams standout.
That brings us back to Cain. It’s time to transition from non-factor to contributor.
“We’ve seen him obviously make plays in practice, training camp and preseason games,’’ coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “We just obviously want that to bleed into the regular season games.
“We still have a lot of confidence in Deon.’’
It’s clear Cain isn’t playing at the level he anticipated. It’s also clear he’s determined to do whatever it takes to make a difference moving forward.
“I still trust the process,’’ he said. “I try to stick with my routine and what I do every day and try to get better. I try to learn from the mistakes that I make in practice that week and the mistakes I made in the game.’’
He was targeted twice at Pittsburgh and flat dropped one of them on an “out’’ pattern. Brian Hoyer’s pass was perfect.
“That was on me,’’ Cain said.
Go back to practice. Learn from your mistakes.
“All you can really do in this game is try to get better,’’ he said. “You don’t want to dwell in the past or dwell on any mistakes you made. That ain’t going to do nothing but keep piling up.
“I need to get the trust of my team . . . for my confidence.’’
It would be understandable if there is a lack of confidence.
“Confidence is always an issue with every player when you don’t get the ball,’’ Frank Reich said. “When you’re not getting the ball, it’s not doing anything to feed your confidence that you want to gain.
“We’ve seen Deon. We all know how hard he worked in the offseason. He had a really great training camp. Probably this year hasn’t materialized quite the way we were envisioning it for him, but that’s not uncommon, especially at this position. It normally takes a little bit longer.
“We’ve just got to keep plugging away.’’
Hilton didn’t practice Wednesday and might not the rest of the week while he deals with a calf injury suffered in practice last week.
“I don’t think he’s playing,’’ Reich said of the Miami game.
He then hedged his bet.
“I think he’s making progress,’’ Reich said. “I’m only saying this because he’s T.Y. This guy’s weird. He’s like a freakish healer. And he doesn’t say a lot. He just figures out how to do it.
“So I don’t even ask . . . I mean I do. I’m obviously the coach and want to know. Just, ‘Whatever that is you do to get better, let’s go ahead and do it and let us know when you can play.’ Don’t ever want to count him out until we absolutely have to.’’
The team expected Hilton to miss 3-4 games with the calf injury. A player’s readiness to return from injury is determined after a meeting that involves the player, coaches and medical staff.
“The player always has a say and his opinion is heavily weighted,’’ Reich said. “When it is somebody like T.Y., you add more weight to it, absolutely.’’
It’s worth noting the Colts are 0-6 when Hilton is out with an injury.
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