Kemoko Turay and his ‘fastball’ return to boost Colts’ defense

Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – AUGUST 24: Kemoko Turay #57 of the Indianapolis Colts sacks Chase Daniel #4 of the Chicago Bears during the first quarter of the preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 24, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL’s top-ranked defense is getting its fastball back for what is expected to be a push for a playoff spot.

End Kemoko Turay, who suffered a dislocated right ankle that involved ligament damage in the team’s upset of the Kansas City Chiefs in week 5 of last season, will be added to the active roster from the physically unable to perform list (PUP) this week, according to Frank Reich.

Even though Turay will be on a pitch count when he returns to the field – the Colts entertain the Green Bay Packers Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium – his impact could be immediate as a situational pass rusher.

“I think so if he’s up for the game,’’ Reich said Monday on a Zoom conference call. “What we’ve seen out of practices is the same guy. Same guy with the speed and bend coming off the edge.

“A disruptive player with a lot of explosiveness. Natural knack to get off on the snap count.’’

That was the case before Turay sustained the season-ending injury against the Chiefs.

As a rookie, the 2018 second-round pick had 4 sacks and 13 quarterback hits, the latter tied for the team lead. Turay seemed on the verge of a breakout year 2 before his season ended at Arrowhead Stadium. Late in the fourth quarter, he dislocated his right ankle and suffered ligament damage while collaborating with Jabaal Sheard for a sack of Patrick Mahomes.

The Colts completed their 19-13 upset of the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs and Turay contributed the .5 sack, two tackles and three QB hits.

“Turay’s been all over the place,’’ NBC’s Al Michaels said on the broadcast.

There were several factors that contributed to the Colts being unable to build on the win at Kansas City and their 5-2 start and enduring a 2-7 finish, but losing Turay and his pass-rush skills was among them.

“Losing Kemoko Turay was a big hit. I think you saw it,’’ general manager Chris Ballard said in his end-of-season review. “You saw it against the Chargers. I think you saw it against Kansas City. Neither one of those teams could block him.

“He was a fastball that we needed.’’

In four games last season, Turay had 1.5 sacks and five QB hits. He underwent surgery in mid-October to repair the ankle, and endured a grueling rehab that was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, he’ll once provide the complementary pass-rush threat opposite Justin Houston. The 6-5, 248-pound Turay also will boost a solid front that’s gotten top-level play from tackle DeForest Buckner (2.5 sacks, 16 QB hits), Denico Autry (a team-high 6 sacks, seven QB hits), Tyquan Lewis (3.5 sacks, seven QB hits) and Grover Stewart (34 tackles, including four for a loss). Houston led the team with 11 sacks last season and has 3.5 thus far.

Turay was placed on PUP when rosters were cut to 53 Sept. 3, and began practicing in late October.

Coordinator Matt Eberflus insisted there were two aspects of Turay’s game he needed to see in practice before being convinced he was ready to be added to the defensive mix.

“Speed and quickness,’’ he said. “How fast is he taking off? Is he able to turn the corner? Is he able to finish his rushes? Can he play the run? Is he stout enough to play the run in terms of how he feels with his leg?

“So it’s just about the speed, quickness and turning ability. We’ll know it and he’ll know it. His body will tell him when he’s ready to go.’’

There’s no question Turay is ready to go. He made that know via his Twitter account.

“It’s great to be back playing,’’ he posted Monday. “Lord knows how hard I work just to get back on the field again . . . take nothing for granted cause you never know when it’s taken from you . . . thanks for all my fans supporting me through this tuff road #grind #faith #purpose.’’

More medical matters

Tight end Jack Doyle remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol after sustaining a concussion in the Nov. 8 loss to Baltimore.

Along with monitoring Doyle’s progress through the protocol this week, the team is doing likewise with nickel cornerback Kenny Moore II, who suffered a rib injury in Thursday’s win at Tennessee.

Linebacker Matthew Adams will return to the active roster from the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Watching the AFC race?

Reich fully understands where the Colts find themselves in their pursuit of a playoff berth: right smack in dab of a congested AFC.

At 6-3, they lead the AFC South by virtue of their win over the Titans and are the conference’s No. 4 seed.

“It would be disingenuous to say that you don’t look at the standings and wee how crowded it is up there in the AFC and see what’s going on,’’ Reich said.

But so much can change over the next two-plus months. Nine teams are 6-3 or better.

Reich’s focus is on the Green Bay Packers, and nothing more.

“I just can’t allow that and we can allow that to dictate to us or get us in a certain kind of mindset,’’ he said. “I don’t think there’s any productivity to playing that game as far as looking at the schedule, who plays who, trying to project out. That’s all a waste of emotional energy. It’s all a waste as far as internally.

“Now it’s great if you’re a fan. It’s great if you’re in the media. I’d be spending all my time on doing that if I was in (the media’s) position. That’s the fun part of it, right? That’s a blast. I can just tell you from a coaching and a playing perspective, it has zero productivity to it.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

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