INDIANAPOLIS – It’s not as simple as assess the damage from the previous game, plug in the next player and move on to the next opponent.
Yes, that’s the bottom-line approach in the NFL. Never forget, it’s not a contact sport. It’s a collision business. One player gets hurt and another steps in.
But Frank Reich understands the importance of not moving on too quickly and without regard for whom is left behind.
Two weeks into the season and the Colts are moving on without safety Malik Hooker and running back Marlon Mack. Each tore an Achilles tendon – Mack in week 1 at Jacksonville, Hooker in Sunday’s win over Minnesota in Lucas Oil Stadium – and is lost for the season.
Wideout Parris Campbell sprained the posterior collateral and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee against the Vikings. It’s uncertain if surgery is required, but the 2019 second-round draft pick is out indefinitely, perhaps for the season.
To compound matters, Mack and Hooker are in the final year of their rookie contract. Instead of authoring strong seasons and earning a fat contract – either in Indy or elsewhere – they’re looking at lengthy rehabs and uncertain futures.
And Reich knows it.
“Because you get close to these guys, you just hurt for them personally, especially when it’s a contract year,’’ he said Monday on a Zoom conference call. “That’s just bad. You feel terrible for the person.
“As far as the team is concerned, you acknowledge that it’s a loss. Everybody is an important part of the cog of the wheel, but you also have to believe and understand that we’ve got plenty of talent here to step in and step up and take their place.
“We believe that, and we have confidence in that, so you can feel both of those things. You can feel confidence that we’ve got the next-man-up mentality, but you can also still feel the pain and hurt for the individual player.’’
In the end, Reich and the Colts move on.
Rookie Jonathan Taylor replaced Mack as the feature back and responded with 26 carries and 101 yards against the Vikings. Rookie Julian Blackmon, who had yet to go through a full practice while finishing his rehab from December surgery to repair a torn ACL, helped pick up the immediate slack Sunday when Hooker exited in the second quarter and likely will make his first start Sunday when the New York Jets visit Lucas Oil Stadium.
Reich mentioned Blackmon was on a “rep count” against the Vikings. The third-round draft pick was on the field for 63% of the defensive snaps (34 of 54), and was ultra-active.
Blackmon’s play-making skills were on display on two snaps midway through the second quarter. On first-and-10, he prevented a 20-yard completion by jarring the football loose from tight end Irv Smith with a hard tackle. Two plays later, he deflected a deep Kirk Cousin’s pass intended for Adam Thielen that resulted in Khari Willis’ first career interception.
“Yeah, he did play well,’’ Reich said. “He came here to compete for a starting job. We certainly have that expectation given Hook’s injury that he could step into that role.’’
From a depth standpoint, the Colts are equipped to fill Campbell’s void. After T.Y. Hilton, there are rookies Michael Pittman Jr. and Dezmon Patmon, Zach Pascal, Reece Fountain and Ashton Duhlin.
Not to be forgotten in the Colts’ injury issues are a calf injury that sent tight end Trey Burton to the injured reserve list – he’ll miss at least one more game – and ankle and knee issues that kept tight end Jack Doyle out of the Vikings game. Backup linebacker Matthew Adams suffered an ankle injury against Minnesota.
Two weeks in to a unique season, and injuries have not only hit the Colts hard, but teams across the NFL.
The casualty list is long and includes a slew of high-profile players: Saquon Barkley (torn ACL), Nick Bosa (ACL), Courtland Sutton (ACL), Christian McCaffrey (high ankle sprain), Drew Lock (rotator cuff), Jimmy Garoppolo (high ankle sprain), Bruce Irvin (possible ACL).
It’s worth wondering if the lack of on-field work during the offseason, condensed training camp and cancellation of the four preseason games are factors.
Reich isn’t certain.
“It’s such a small sample size, two weeks of the season,’’ he said. “I know in some respects it seems like it’s more than normal, and I don’t know if it actually is, to be honest with you. Maybe it just feels that way given the context of everything.
“At some level, it is football. Sometimes injuries do come in gluts unfortunately. I know our players came in here in great shape. Our guys who’ve gotten hurt were in great physical condition, and I think in good football condition.’’
Rock Ya-Sin has been released from a local hospital, but his status for Sunday’s game with the Jets is uncertain. The second-year cornerback arrived at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday intending to start, but was sent to the hospital after experiencing stomach distress.
“(He) was diagnosed with a non-football-related illness,’’ Reich said without elaboration.
About T.Y.’s “drop”
At the risk of making an excuse for his four-time Pro Bowl wideout failing to come down with a 45-yard TD Sunday, Reich offered an explanation for Hilton losing control of a Philip Rivers pass as he was sliding into the end zone.
“I believe the sun was a factor,’’ he said.
A decision was made to open Lucas Oil Stadium’s roof and window on a bright afternoon, and that resulted in Reich and his staff discussing the situation prior to the game. Glaring sunlight poured in.
“I told our guys up in the booth, ‘OK, let’s keep track of where the sun is, what time of day it is,’ because it is a little bit of a factor,’’ Reich said. “When we practiced there a couple of weeks ago, we had an issue or two handling a punt when we had to look into the sun.’’
Reich added his preference was to call the deep shot to Hilton when his offense was going in the other direction, away from the open window.
“But it just didn’t come up that way,’’ he said. “You can try to plan for that, but we felt like that was the perfect time to call it, and we just had to take our chances.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s not going to be a factor. But I just think it was that 1% that T.Y. looked up at the wrong time at the wrong way, caught the ball in the sun and at the last second he kind of lost vision of it.’’
Hilton is off to a quiet start with seven catches for 81 yards. He suffered a pair of costly drops in the opener.
“I’m not worried about T.Y.,’’ Reich said. “He’s the last guy I worry about.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.
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