INDIANAPOLIS – Michael Pittman Jr. has bought in.
He’s had a front-row seat on the Shane Steichen bandwagon since that Feb. 14 press conference introducing the Indianapolis Colts’ youngest head coach since some guy named Don Shula in 1963.
Maybe it was something Steichen, an offensive mind, said during his initial meet-and-greet.
“My philosophy is we’re going to throw to score points in this league and run to win,’’ he said.
Pittman was in the audience, along with several other teammates; Quenton Nelson, Bernhard Raimann, Tyquan Lewis among them. His were receptive ears.
Throw to score points.
In a dysfunctional 2022, three Colts’ starting quarterbacks had trouble throwing it from here to there.
Pittman shared a few minutes with Steichen on Feb. 14, and has strolled into his office on a couple of occasions over the past two months. He’s also talked with new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.
“I’ve pretty much been here for most of the time,’’ Pittman said Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve been here. I’ve had a couple of meetings with him (and) JBC about the direction that we are going and what he expects.’’
The installation of Steichen’s offense began Monday with the start of the Colts’ offseason workout program, will intensify and ultimately be adjusted to reflect the team’s sixth different starting quarterback in as many seasons. Maybe that’s veteran Gardner Minshew II. Maybe it’s whichever prospect general manager Chris Ballard and Steichen select with a top-4 pick in the April 27 NFL draft.
Does Pittman have a preference?
“That’s above my pay grade,’’ he said with a laugh. “One day maybe I get into the GM space, but I’m just going to trust Chris that he’s going to do whatever this team needs.’’
Five days into the Steichen era, the offensive terminology is in place.
Wednesday “was really the first day we really started X’s and O’s,’’ he said.
The offense clearly is in its infancy, but Steichen’s message has grabbed Pittman’s attention.
“I won’t go into too much because we don’t want to give out intel,’’ he said, smiling. “I’ll just say that he’s very excited about the pass game.
“I love that because I catch passes and he wants to throw it.’’
It’s not hyperbole that Pittman was most impacted by a passing game that was one of the NFL’s least effective last season: No. 23 in yards per game (201.0), No. 31 in yards per pass play (5.68), tied-No. 29 in yards per attempt (6.4), tied-No. 26 in 20-yard completions (26).
The Colts averaged 9.7 yards per catch, the lowest in franchise history. After averaging 12.6 and 12.3 yards per catch in his first two seasons, Pittman dipped to 9.3 in year 3. That’s the worst per-catch average by the team’s leading wideout since Dan Edwards finished at 8.9.
“I’ve got to take and throw it out, but I think about it,’’ Pittman said of ’22. “I wouldn’t say there is a frustration because there was so many things that we had going on that I was just trying to focus on what I could do.
“I feel like if you’re frustrated with your teammates and coaches, that can draw an even bigger division that we didn’t need to create because we were already going through a lot of stuff. There’s no need to go in there, (curse at) people and create more division.’’
Pittman attempted to control what he could control during a 4-12-1 season he categorized as “the ultimate low of my football career.’’ He finished with a career-high 99 receptions, but could squeeze just 925 yards out of them. Whatever individual goals had been set were not obtained.
“I got close to one of them with 99 catches,’’ he said. “That falls on me. If you go to that last game, I had a ton of missed opportunities.’’
In the 32-31 season-ending loss to Houston, Pittman had just three catches for 30 yards on five targets. On the season, he was targeted a career-high 141 times, the most by a Colt since T.Y. Hilton’s 155 in 2016.
“Throughout the whole season there’s things I could have done to get that last catch,’’ he said. “It’s not on anybody else. That’s on me. One more catch? That’s on me.’’
Pittman’s regression from a statistical standpoint was a direct byproduct of shoddy pass protection (60 sacks, the second-most in franchise history), which made pushing the football down the field problematic, and the continued quarterback carousel. In three seasons and 47 games, the 2020 second-round draft pick has dealt with five starting QBs (Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles).
“We’ve had a decent amount of turnover,’’ Pittman said. “It has just taught me to adapt to any situation. Just being able to adapt quickly and just kind of roll with it. Nothing’s ever perfect.
“You’ve just got to roll with the punches.’’
As he rolls into year 4 and prepares to be a critical component in Steichen’s offense, Pittman finds himself at a critical personal juncture. He’s in the final year of his rookie contract. An extension looms that could pay him at least $15-18 million per year.
“There might have been a couple of talks here and there,’’ Pittman said. “Just leave that to my agent because that’s what I pay him to do. I don’t want anything to do with those. I just want to play.’’
An extension, he added, isn’t necessarily a goal.
“I think that happens naturally with performance, right?’’ he said. “And if it doesn’t happen this year, that’s no big deal. It’ll happen eventually, right?’’
Pittman’s immediate motivation is preparing for his and wife Kianna’s second child.
“I’m going to have a son soon,’’ he said, “so I’m going to have my second (child) hopefully in the next month-and-a-half.
“That is more motivation than any number.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.