WESTFIELD – It’s difficult to consider the impressive present and tantalizing future without briefly discussing the frustrating past.
And it’s a past that might have worn down someone not as mentally tough and grounded as Parris Campbell.
Since the Indianapolis Colts selected him with the 59th overall pick in the 2019 draft, he’s been on the field for 15 of 49 regular-season games. He’s spent more time on the injured reserve list – 17 games – than he’s been available.
“My career thus far hasn’t been what I have wanted it to be,’’ Campbell said after a recent training camp practice at Grand Park Sports Campus.
It’s given him a better, deeper appreciation for his God-given abilities and the opportunity to play at the NFL level. He credits his unwavering support staff – “My family was everything for me’’ – and faith for keeping him on track.
“I did have to go through having the game taken away from me due to injuries and having to sit at home and having to go through rehab,’’ he said. “It’s 100% . . . that you’re going to get hurt playing this game, but that’s something you don’t think about when you’ve never gotten hurt.’’
From a broken bone in each foot to torn ligaments in his left knee to a broken hand to abdominal surgery to a concussion suffered in a automobile accident.
But that’s the maddening past, or so Campbell and the Colts hope.
Another camp, another opportunity to reboot.
And another opportunity – perhaps his final one in Indy; Campbell is in the final year of his rookie contract – to emerge as a viable, reliable playmaker in Frank Reich’s offense.
Again, Campbell is all-too-aware how something so dear can be snatched away.
“I know how fast it can be taken away because I have experienced that,’’ he said.
But he also understands how quickly it can be reclaimed.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “Shoot, on that standpoint, too, I’ve been blessed to rehab through some serious injuries and some of those injuries, some guys don’t come back from. I’ve been blessed, man.
“I come in, and I had no prior injury history. Obviously I’ve been through a lot, and my body’s had to adapt to that. But I feel great.’’
Seeing is believing.
Although we only have a small sample size thus far, Campbell has been one of the unquestioned offensive stars of camp. He’s catching virtually everything from Matt Ryan and routinely displayed that rare run-away-from-you speed.
That’s been especially evident on those shallow crossing routes. Ryan not only has been hitting Campbell but most of his over-the-middle targets in stride.
Ryan has excelled at throwing over the middle during his career, and that’s reinforced by his 2021 performance with the Atlanta Falcons. According to SI.com, he completed 200-of-272 attempts between the hash marks (73.5%) for 2,264 yards with 13 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 107.8 passer rating.
Campbell considers his new QB a perfect match.
“When I’m lined up in the slot running those crossing routes,’’ he said, “that’s Matt’s bread and butter.
“Shoot, I think that’s my bread and butter, too. That’s something I’ve done throughout my college career. Coming here, you guys see me doing that. Whenever I’m in the slot, I’m most comfortable, for sure.’’
Every receiver still is in the process of honing his timing with Ryan. Campbell also is able to draw on experiences from the offseason. He and Ryan got together three or four times prior to the OTA period and another three times between OTAs and the start of camp.
“So yeah, we had a couple of good sessions in,’’ Campbell said.
The chemistry lessons occur every day. During a recent practice, Ryan approached Campbell after one play to discuss how a specific play unfolded.
“He kind of told me that I kind of tempoed out of it because I felt like I got in the window too fast,’’ Campbell said. “He’s like, ‘No, just trust me. Just run. Just run.’
“Little things go a long way in building that rapport, building that connection and building that trust. I feel like it can continue to get better . . . we’ve got a lot of work to do, but I like where we’re at.’’
Reich has seen firsthand Campbell’s versatility and potential, and the flashes he’s produced in those 15 games: 34 receptions, 360 yards, two touchdowns. And he’s helped lift his young wideout’s spirits when that next injury hit.
Even so, Reich didn’t feel the need to rehash the past with Campbell before the start of camp.
“Just our belief in him, just reiterating our belief and confidence in him,’’ Reich said. “The stuff he’s had has been kind of freakish.
“So, just come out there with confidence. It’s a long season, and just take it from a positive approach: ‘We’re behind you and will give you everything you need, but you have to go earn it.’ He’s got to earn it, and he knows that.’’
With each practice, Campbell has reinforced what everyone with the team has felt about him.
“Yeah, he’s got speed, he’s strong with the ball,’’ Reich said. “Every time he touches it, he’s a breakaway threat. He’s got that legit speed.
“But Parris is also real smart. I think it’s a good combination.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.