INDIANAPOLIS – What began with throwing sessions by eager rookies on the West Coast has transitioned into more serious business.
More than a handful of the Indianapolis Colts’ nine-player draft class is in town and participating in Philip Rivers-led workouts. It’s the next step – a critical step – in preparation for 2020, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NFL’s offseason workout programs to be done remotely.
Finally, players – rookies and veterans alike – are able to go out and do what they do.
“We have a decent-size group,’’ second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr. said Wednesday on a Zoom conference call. “It’s like not a big group, but we have enough to get good work in.’’
It’s uncertain which players are participating, but Rivers has been throwing to tight end Jack Doyle and wideout Parris Campbell for more than a week.
“It certainly is important to all of us, important to all our guys that we get together and get some work done because we got some great work done in the (virtual) meetings,’’ Rivers said last week. “But certainly I haven’t met many of these guys in person much less thrown them a pass or had a person-to-person conversation.’’
Gradually, that’s changing and expanding.
Monday, several rookies arrived in town for specialized work with their position coaches, albeit on the virtual platform. Fewer players – vets are done until training camp in late July – allows for more personalized attention. That’s been supplemented with the on-field practice sessions away from the team’s Indiana Farm Bureau headquarters.
Among the rookies participating are wideouts Pittman and Dezmon Patmon, running back Jonathan Taylor and offensive lineman Danny Pinter.
The change of scenery for Pittman – from Los Angeles to Indy – required an adjustment.
“The first day I was feeling kind of homesick,’’ he admitted. “After that practice, I felt good. I felt like I was home. I felt like all of my teammates were very welcoming, and it just made everything easier because everybody was cool.
“I think we have a real family-style team, and I can’t wait.’’
Pittman, the 34th overall selection and eighth wideout taken in the draft, is making the most of the opportunity. He doesn’t lack confidence in himself and has been receptive whenever anyone has offered advice.
“You’ve got to be confidently quiet,’’ he said. “You have to be confident enough to make plays, but when a vet says something, you have to be confident enough to take that constructive criticism and you have to know your place.’’
While benefitting from catching passes from Rivers, Pittman also is absorbing whatever possible from the team’s top wideout.
“Yeah, so T.Y. (Hilton) is around, and I’ve actually learned a lot from him,’’ Pittman said. “I’m just looking forward to getting with him and learning more from him.’’
The sessions with Rivers and other offensive players comes on the heels of Pittman arranging workouts on the West Coast with Patmon and Jacob Eason. Patmon is a sixth-round wideout out of Washington State and Eason a fourth-round QB out of Washington.
Pittman and Eason were in L.A. while Patmon was in San Diego.
“That’s like an hour, hour-and-a-half away from each other,’’ Patmon said. “I mean we are all part of the draft class this year. It’s better learning by doing stuff and actually being able to run routes like that instead of sitting on Zoom calls all day and just looking at plays drawn up.’’
So Pittman texted his new teammates.
“I said, ‘Hey, let’s throw,’’’ he said. “Through that we basically developed fellowship and like just an early relationship. It’s just good to know people before you move out to a place that you’ve never been. It just gives you a sense of belonging.’’
The Indy workouts have taken that to the necessary next level. That’s when a sense of reality really set it. Prior to this week, things were important, but detached.
“Basically this week has almost made it real because up to this I hadn’t been here,’’ Pittman said. “I hadn’t really ran routes with anybody except Jacob and Dez.
“It just makes it more real, and it helps us get those physical reps because they don’t always look the same when they’re on paper.’’
‘X’ marks his spot
The Colts expect Pittman to make an immediate splash. At 6-4 and 223 pounds, he’s an ideal complement to the 5-9, 183-pound Hilton.
“We envision Michael as being the ‘X’ receiver, and we believe he can develop into that pretty quickly,’’ Frank Reich said. “He’s obviously going to have to prove that, but we are optimistic that he will.
“The ‘X’ receiver is, for a lack of a better way to say it, the guy that you want to put when you’re in a trips right and he is singled into the boundary and you can throw one-on-one to him.’’
That’s just fine with Pittman.
“Probably the ‘X’ responsibility is to go deep, to block, run slants, go’s and posts and really just have those tough-down catches, and I feel like that’s what I do best because I’m a big-body, strong, fast guy,’’ he said. “I feel like that is made for me, so I’m excited for it.’’
If Pittman matches expectations, he should threaten the team’s rookie record for receptions in a season. Bill Brooks set the standard with 65 in 1986. Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison had 64 in 1996, Nyheim Hines 63 in 2018, Hall of Famer Edgerrin James 62 in 1999 and Austin Collie 60 in 2009.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51