Zach Pascal understated, but making a difference for Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 20: Zach Pascal #14 of the Indianapolis Colts gives a stiff arm to Lonnie Johnson #32 of the Houston Texans during the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 20, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – On this occasion, the normal compliment wouldn’t suffice.

This wasn’t the time to mention Zach Pascal was a guy who put team ahead of ego, worked his tail off in practice, accepted and carried out a role that oft-times required more blue-collar blocking than highlight-worthy receiving without the hint of protest, and never – ever – even remotely was a distraction or hindrance to what was being built inside the Farm Bureau Football Center.

Keep in mind, all of that is true.

But on this Tuesday, Nick Sirianni felt the need to take things to an entirely different level.

It was during an offensive meeting a few days after the Indianapolis Colts’ season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Pascal was on the field for 23 of the 63 snaps, and the stat sheet insisted he had little impact. No targets. No catches. He contributed one tackle on 13 special teams plays.

Sirianni looked past the bottom line, which too often misleads. He broke down Marlon Mack’s two-point conversion with 38 seconds remaining that tied the game at 30-all and forced overtime.

He noticed Pascal lined up in the right slot. He nodded in appreciation as his second-year wideout pinched to the left, engaged linebacker Dyzir White and kept him from getting to Mack.

That was the quintessential Zach Pascal, and it struck a cord with his offensive coordinator. Siriani took time from the meeting to single out the unselfish nature of one of his unsung players.

“Hopefully, he knows that’s the biggest compliment I can give him,’’ he shared with the media last month. “I said, ‘I hope Jacob Sirianni, my son, plays football like you do.’’’

At the risk to choking up, Sirianni added a bit of levity.

“I made it very clear to the offensive line that my son is not going to be build like them,’’ he said. “So I mentioned it to Zach first.’’

Frank Reich referred to Sirianni’s personal touch when addressing Pascal’s place and presence on a roster that sits atop the AFC South at 4-2 following Sunday’s victory over the 4-3 Houston Texans.

Things have changed dramatically for Pascal since week 1. He remains selfless and busy on special teams, but has emerged as one of Jacoby Brissett’s top options in the passing game. Against the Texans, Pascal had the most productive game of his 24-game career with six catches, 106 yards and two touchdowns.

Not bad for someone who had zero targets in the first two games.

Pascal’s first catch of the season came in week 3 against Atlanta and was directly linked to his prowess as a blocker. Late in the first quarter and with Brissett facing a first-and-10 at the Falcons 18, Reich sent running back Nyheim Hines in motion to the right on a wheel route. Pascal faked a block, headed down the right side and was wide open for a touchdown.

No one saw it coming.

Now, everyone is noticing Pascal.

“He’s tough, he’s a team player, he’s got no ego, and he’s just really talented,’’ Reich said. “But probably the thing we like the most is his toughness. And not just his blocking toughness. Just this attitude he brings to the field, that he’s not backing down from anybody.

“He’s a really good player, but he’s a team-first guy, and we love that about him.’’

Good luck getting Pascal to dwell too much on himself. His team-first persona is legit.

“I have an ego,’’ he said, “but in order to make this team, you’ve got to throw that aside, you know? That’s what’s special. Anybody on this team is just like that.

“Nobody cares if they get the ball or not just as long as we get the W.’’

Pascal’s mentality is rooted in beating the odds.

His 233 career receptions set an Old Dominion record while his 3,184 yards and 30 TDs ranked No. 2. He was the first player in school history to earn an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine.

Pascal went undrafted and was signed by Washington as a rookie free agent. He subsequently was waived by Washington, signed and waived twice by the Tennessee Titans before the Colts claimed him off waivers in June 2018.

With each day and each practice, Pascal made it clear he belonged.

“Zach is just the type of football player that it feels like you can’t keep him off the field, and it feels like he just is very consistent,’’ Sirianni said. “I think that is very intriguing to a coach.’’

The Colts’ passing game has been in need for a viable complement to T.Y. Hilton. That was supposed to be Devin Funchess, but he suffered a shoulder injury in the opener and isn’t eligible to return until the Nov. 17 game with Jacksonville. Rookie Parris Campbell has 10 catches for 62 yards and one TD, but he’s missed the last two games with an abdominal injury. It was thought Deon Cain might help ease Hilton’s load, but the second-year wideout has yet to make a difference (four catches for 52 yards on 12 targets).

Now, it’s Pascal. His 13 receptions are tied for fourth on the team, second among wideouts. His 239 yards trail only Hilton’s 306 and are quickly approaching the 268 yards he amassed last season.

“I wish we could say that we were surprised,’’ Reich said. “I mean, this goes back to last year. He kind of won us over really quick, and he won the quarterbacks over with his toughness and his big-play ability.’’

Brissett has completed 15 passes that have gained at least 20 yards. Pascal has accounted for a team-high six.

“He’s got deceiving speed, and he’s got a really good knack of separating at the top of the routes,’’ Reich said. “So when you play him man coverage, he can make big plays, and he did that today.’’

Pascal’s work against the Texans included receptions of 34, 26, 20 and 19 yards. His TDs covered 11 and 3 yards.

Hilton has long been a Pascal supporter. When the Texans began tightening their coverage on him Sunday, Hilton was confident Pascal would respond.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons, man,’’ he said. “Whoever you want to take away, the other guys are gonna eat.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast:

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