INDIANAPOLIS — Running back Jonathan Taylor showed the Indianapolis Colts what he could do in his first two NFL games. Receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and safety Julian Blackmon will get their chance Sunday against the New York Jets.
Yes, three games into their rookie seasons, Indy’s top three draft picks are being pushed by a rash of long-term injuries to take on larger roles than anticipated. So far, so good.
“It’s football,” Pittman said after catching four passes for 37 yards in last weekend’s victory over Minnesota. “It’s faster and I’d really say that’s probably the biggest thing. It is more violent and defensive backs have better ball skills.”
It didn’t take the son of a Super Bowl-winning running back long to figure that out, and it hasn’t taken the Colts long to figure out how valuable this draft class could be.
Originally the Colts anticipated their top two picks, Pittman and Taylor, becoming key cogs. Taylor was to split carries with 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack while Pittman worked his way into a receiving group that included four-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton and veterans Zach Pascal and Parris Campbell.
Now, Indy (1-1) has gone to its backup plan.
A torn Achilles tendon ended Mack’s season after just two quarters, pushing Taylor into the starting job. He responded by catching six passes for 67 yards in the Colts’ loss at Jacksonville and rushing 26 times for 101 yards and a TD against the Vikings. He’s the first Colts rookie to top the 100-yard mark since 2012 and now has 199 total yards in two games despite no offseason team activities and no preseason games.
The Colts are impressed.
“He’s powerful, he’s fast, and our offensive line most definitely gives the ball (carrier) an opportunity to get onto the secondary,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “Same thing with our receivers, they (linemen) blocked their tails off to allow them to be one-on-one with the safeties and corners. I definitely think a back with the style of Jonathan gets better as guys get tired and get tired of tackling them.”
This week, Pittman hopes to make a similar impact.
The 6-foot-4, 223-pound rookie possesses size Indy’s other outside receivers don’t have and his hands were lauded by scouts before the draft.
So when Campbell (left knee) went on injured reserve Tuesday, it almost assured Pittman of seeing more extensive action in three-receiver formations and could even start against the Jets (0-2).
“I was really happy with the plays Michael Pittman made,” coach Frank Reich said. “Not just the couple key plays he made, but just how he made them. Some things that we talked about and some things that he’s been working on, that really just showed up (Sunday). I just think the arrow is really up for him and all of our young guys.”
Campbell’s injury also could open a spot for sixth-round pick Dezmon Patmon, who played well in training camp but was inactive the first two weeks, to play in his first game.
The biggest surprise so far has been Blackmon.
After earning second-team All-American honors at Utah last year, his first as a safety, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered in December relegated him to a third-round pick. He started training camp on the active/non-football injury list, was taken off the list Aug. 31 and sat out the season opener.
Nine months later Blackmon returned to the field, making two tackles and breaking up two passes, one of which teammate Khari Willis snared out of the air for a game-changing interception. He replaced Malik Hooker, who went on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday with a torn Achilles tendon.
Reich acknowledged Blackmon was on a play count last week and likely will be this week, but he could soon be in the starting lineup, too.
And Blackmon, like Taylor and Pittman, promises to be ready.
“One of the coaches talked to me and he said, ‘This is your rookie debut and you’re going to remember it either way, so you might as well make it great,’” Blackmon said. “That kind of just stuck with me and I just wanted to make an impact and try to help my team win.”
NOTES: Indy signed veteran receiver Marcus Johnson to the practice squad. Johnson spent parts of the past two seasons with the Colts, catching 23 passes for 379 yards. … The Colts also promoted safety Ibraheim Campbell and cornerback Tremon Smith to the active roster from the practice squad and added tight ends Hale Hentges and Ethan Wolf to the practice squad.