WESTFIELD, Ind. – Ed Dodds is Chris Ballard’s right-hand man, and was in lockstep with his boss as Monday’s discussion turned to a certain running back.
That would be Jonathan Taylor.
The Indianapolis Colts’ offensive catalyst has returned after opting to continue his rehab on his right ankle away from the team last week. He remains on the physically unable to perform list (PUP).
- Question: Is Taylor rehabbing the same injury/ankle that forced him to miss the final three games last season and required surgery in late January?
- Dodds: “I won’t talk about injuries.’’
- Question: Do the Colts anticipate Taylor playing for them this season?
- Dodds: “I’ll let Chris deal with that.’’
The questions had to be asked during a Zoom conference call even though it was highly unlikely Dodds, the team’s assistant general manager, would offer clarity regarding a Colts/Taylor impasse that enters its fourth week with no resolution in sight.
No Taylor availability to this point for practice.
Saturday’s preseason opener at Buffalo did little to further the notion a non-Taylor Colts’ running game would be sufficient when things get serious on Sept. 10 against Jacksonville.
Backs combined for 79 yards and a pair of short touchdowns on 27 carries. That’s 2.9 yards a pop, although Deon Jackson was serviceable with six rushes for 35 yards in the first quarter. Evan Hull, Jake Funk, Kenyan Drake and Jason Huntley were 21 for 44 and the two TDs.
“They’re running hard. They’re playing hard,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “I think those guys are aware of the opportunity that the reps provide and are looking to take advantage of it.’’
Yet no one can casually dismiss what Taylor brings to the offense, and the impact of his absence. That’s especially true as the Colts prepare rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson for what’s to come, which might be being the starter for the Sept. 10 opener against Jacksonville.
Dodds was instrumental in the pre-draft evaluation of Taylor in 2020. Remember, the Colts had taken wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. with their first second-round pick (No. 34) and were deciding what to do with their next selection in round 2 (No. 44).
Jonathan Taylor still was on the board, and everyone in the Colts’ war room was getting nervous. Owner Jim Irsay implored Ballard to move up.
“All of a sudden you get to 36, 37,’’ Ballard said at the time. “Actually Mr. Irsay said, ‘Chris, y’all have been talking about this guy, how much you love him. Y’all need to go get him.’’’
Ballard traded up from 44 to 41 and got his explosive running back.
While Dodds was in no mode to discuss Taylor’s injury/rehab/whatever, he reminded everyone what separates him from most other backs.
“Specifically it’s the homerun speed,’’ he said. “There’s a lot of guys that are good runners, but they’re not a threat to go 80 yards.’’
In three seasons and 43 games, Taylor has nine 40-plus-yard rushes. He’s generated seven of at least 56: 62-, 78-, 67- and 66-yard touchdown runs, a 76-yard catch-and-run TD, and 83- and 56-yard runs.
“That’s kind of what set him apart right away, if you had to pick one thing whether it was in the draft or even his time in the league,’’ Dodds said.
Despite averaging a career-low 4.5 yards per attempt last year, Taylor’s three-year average (5.1) is a franchise record. Lenny Moore is next at 4.8.
With the uncertainty regarding Taylor’s immediate future – might he miss the opener? – Ballard, Dodds and the personnel staff have monitored the available running backs. They signed Drake, a seven-year veteran with 3,866 yards and 33 touchdowns in 101 games; signed and waived rookie Toriano Clinton; signed Huntley; and brought in veteran Kareem Hunt for a visit.
Zack Moss missed the preseason opener with a broken arm, and might be ready for the opener.
Regardless the situation, Dodds insisted, you must expect the unexpected. Remember Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement Aug. 24, 2019?
“Honestly, I’m not going to BS you guys. It’s just like college like we do with a quarterback,’’ he said. “Whether we have one or not, you never know what’s going to happen because we’ve literally been through it where we had a great (QB) in here and two weeks before the season, ‘Hey, I’m done playing.’
“You’ve just got to always be prepared for everything.’’
It’s likely Taylor won’t appear in the Colts’ final two preseason games, which will extend his preseason bottom line.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 preseason, and he didn’t step on the field during the ’21 and ’22 preseasons.
Cooter admitted determining playing time during the preseason is a case-by-case situation.
“It’s different for every guy,’’ he said. “Ideally at the running back position, your first live hit isn’t in the regular season. You’d love to get that preseason action in.
“But that’s an ideal situation and in this league, things kind of roll with the punches sometimes. We’ll see how all that goes, but ideally, you’d rather get that (live contact) in early.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.