INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s there, but you’ve got to dig through the mounting injuries, new faces in the huddle, maddening dropped passes and otherwise lackluster performance at one of the most consequential positions for a team on pace to set NFL records for passes attempted and completed in a season.
What’s there? The silver lining, which is the direct result of plugging another new face into the game plan.
“The one good thing is you never have any tendencies,’’ offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said Tuesday with a wry smile. “There’s a new guy in there for a couple of weeks.
“That’s looking at it from the bright side.’’
And that pretty much sums up the predicament facing Sirianni and the Colts as they attempt to right their beleaguered receivers room.
How bad is it?
Dontrelle Inman likely will be involved Sunday when the Buffalo Bills visit Lucas Oil Stadium. He was signed Tuesday, one of those unheralded but invaluable “street’’ free agents.
The Colts also added K.J. Brent to the practice squad. Don’t be surprised if he’s elevated to the active roster later in the week.
“It’s a hard thing to kind of not know, to have some unknowns about who’s going to go in,’’ Sirianni admitted. “But we do feel like we do know what the guys we do have playing, what they’re good at and how we can highlight what they’re good at and take away some of the things they’re bad at and do our job as coaches.’’
Sirianni and coach Frank Reich have been game-planning with one hand tied behind their back.
Four-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton has missed the last two games with chest and hamstring injuries and there’s every chance he won’t return until after the Colts emerge from their bye week after dealing with the Bills and the Raiders in Oakland Oct. 28.
Then, Sunday’s 42-34 loss to the New York Jets. As if their fourth straight loss wasn’t painful enough, the Colts exited the game with two of their receivers hobbled. Marcus Johnson was placed on the injured reserve list after tearing a ligament in his right ankle on a kickoff return and Ryan Grant suffered an ankle injury as well.
Andrew Luck finished the game with two healthy wideouts: Chester Rogers and Zach Pascal.
Help is on the way for Luck, but it’s anyone’s guess how quickly that help – primarily Inman – can be expected to contribute in a meaningful way. Inman’s transition from inactivity to a new environment should be eased by having been with Sirianni and Reich in San Diego. The 6-3, 205-pounder knows the nuts and bolts of their offense.
“He knows the terminology and he’s always been a quick processor who helped the other guys get lined up,’’ Sirianni said.
There also were routes Inman excelled at with the Chargers that could be accentuated in Indy.
“I won’t reveal what those routes are,’’ Sirianni said with a smile.
In five seasons with the Chargers and Chicago Bears, Inman appeared in 49 games with 30 starts. His NFL resume: 130 receptions, 1,797 yards, eight TDs. The Chargers traded him to the Bears last October, and he caught 23 passes for 334 yards and one TD in eight games.
Is it realistic to expect Inman to arrive on Tuesday, practice three days and play meaningful snaps against the Bills?
“Yeah, I think he probably needs to,’’ Sirianni said. “We’ll see as the week goes. He hasn’t played football this year yet.
“We’re going to see how he responds to some reps.’’
That might also be the case with Brent. He’s back after being released from the injured reserve list with an injury settlement. Brent was in the midst of a solid preseason before suffering a knee injury Aug. 18 in a joint training camp practice with the Baltimore Ravens.
As it stands, the active roster boasts three healthy receivers in Rogers, Pascal and Inman. Brent joined rookies Reece Fountain and Steve Ishmael on the practice squad.
If Grant is unable to play, it’s almost a certainly one of the practice squad wideouts will be elevated to the active roster.
Fountain was a fifth-round pick in the April draft who to this point hasn’t done enough to merit a promotion. During the draft, general manager Chris Ballard indicated the team viewed the Northern Iowa standout as something of a project.
“He’s going to need a little time (being) from a small school, but we like his upside,’’ he said at the time.
“It just takes time,’’ Sirianni said. “It’s a different, different game . . . going from the FCS level (to the NFL). He is catching our eye. He is showing up he can do some things.’’
About those drops
After the Colts littered MetLife Stadium with five or six more dropped passes, Reich admitted the obvious: “It’s been an issue and it’s past the point of, “OK, that was a fluke.’’
Sirianni agreed. Pro Football Focus charted the Colts with 15 drops in the last three games. Some guesstimates are as high as 18.
“Everybody’s aware of it,’’ Sirianni said. “Yeah, we all know it’s a problem. We just have to keep coaching the fundamentals. We’re on them about fundamentals.
“We’ll just keep throwing the ball to them in practice. They have to go out and do it. They know that. Nobody wants to catch the ball more than the guy who’s got the name on the back of his jersey and the Colt symbol on his helmet.’’
Daily practice requires each receiver to go through an 85-catch circuit.
“Just different types of catches,’’ Sirianni said. “Now we’re requiring them to get on that JUGS for a little more.
“We all know this is a problem we have to fix. We know it’s an issue. We know as a group – players and coaches – we have to fix it.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.