INDIANAPOLIS – Jonathan Taylor is less than two years into his NFL career, but the sport’s harsh reality seems to be driven home game after game after game.
Even after practice.
“You play the game because you love it,’’ the Indianapolis Colts’ feature back said Thursday. “You accept the risk. You know the risk that’s out there. Injuries just suck.
“The injury rate in the league is 100%.’’
The latest cruel reminder came during Wednesday’s practice. In a non-contact setting and on a natural grass surface, Julian Blackmon tore an Achilles tendon. Just like that, the Colts’ starting free safety and one of their rising stars was done for the season.
Darius Leonard shook his head with what seemed to be equal parts disbelief and angst.
“That’s a huge loss,’’ he said. “A guy who was playing at a very high level this season. There’s nobody who ball-hawks like he does. He has great ball skills. When there’s a mishap in the front end, he’s there to make the tackle.
“That’s going to be tough to find someone to take over his spot. That’s a tough loss. I just feel very bad for him.’’
Making it more difficult to accept, Leonard added, is the season-ending injury occurred in the relative calm of practice.
“Yeah, that’s what sucks,’’ he said. “For a freak accident like that to happen in practice, nobody wants to get hurt in practice. If you do get hurt, you want to get hurt in a game. You know, leave it on the field.’’
The Colts have left a lot on the field, and they’re only six games into the season.
Blackmon is the latest player who’ll miss time because of injury. Earlier this week, wideout Parris Campbell was placed on the injured reserve list with a foot injury sustained in Sunday’s win over Houston. His season might be over.
Hilton returned against the Texans after missing the first five games following neck surgery, and now his status for Sunday night’s meeting with the San Francisco 49ers is in doubt because of a quadriceps injury.
“I’m 50-50 right now,’’ he said.
The list also includes All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson (three games with a sprained ankle), right tackle Braden Smith (five with a strained foot), cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes (two with a calf injury), T.J. Carrie (three with a knee) and Rock Ya-Sin (two with an ankle), rookie defensive ends Kwity Paye (two with a hamstring) and Kemoko Turay (two with a groin), safety Khari Willis (one with an ankle/groin) and kicker Rodrigo Blankenship (one and counting with a hip issue).
Peruse social media and the questions and criticism are rampant. The Colts, so many insist, always are among the NFL’s most-injured teams. It’s their medical/rehab/training staff. It’s the turf they play on at Lucas Oil Stadium and practice on at their Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center facility.
It’s something inherent to the Colts.
No, insisted more than a few players. It’s the nature of the NFL.
According to a tally board compiled by spotrac.com, the Colts have 14 players on IR. It’s actually 12, according to Colts.com, and that’s before Blackmon goes on and Nelson and perhaps wideout Dezmon Patmon come off for the Niners’ game.
But the Tennessee Titans have 17 players on IR followed by the Baltimore Ravens (16), Dallas Cowboys (15), Denver Broncos (15) and New York Giants (15).
The Cleveland Browns have 12 on IR after activating wideout Jarvis Landry for Thursday night’s game with Denver, but that hardly tells their painful story. The Browns will be without quarterback Baker Mayfield and top running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and might be without starting offensive tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills.
“I mean, it’s not a game, you know?’’ Hilton said. “It’s not like you can just play Madden and cut the injuries off. We work so hard to get our bodies ready to perform on a weekly basis. Every single day we put in the work for our bodies to respond.
“Sometimes you just get the bad end of the stick. It hurts because you’ve been through so much, so much training in the offseason and you never expect to get hurt. But when it happens, it’s like . . . people blame us.
“We don’t want to be hurt, but it just happens.’’
Shortly after undergoing neck surgery in late August, Hilton briefly considered hanging it up.
“You only get one neck,’’ he said.
Quarterback Carson Wentz underwent Aug. 2 surgery on his left foot and suffered a badly sprained right ankle in the week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. He’s now playing at a high level.
Leonard hasn’t missed a start and has been on the field for 373 of 381 defensive snaps (98%) despite dealing with an ankle injury that’s robbing him of much of his burst and speed.
“You’re body is just beat up,’’ he said. “We’re not robots. Injury is a part of the game. I don’t think you can control anything that happens. You can’t go out there and practice soft and worry about injuries. You have to make sure you can control what you can control.’’
That consists of regimented work during the offseason and maintaining a strict routine during the season. It’s work in the weight room and spending time with the trainers and rehab staff. It’s cold tubs and massages and doing as much as possible to limit the risk of soft-tissue injuries.
Taylor has yet to miss a game due to injury – knock on wood – and credits the exhaustive work he does before ever stepping on the field.
“A lot of times, especially in college, you kind of associate the training room as a negative. As in you don’t want to be in the training room,’’ he said. “Being here, talking to a lot of the other vets, most of the time those guys are in the training room. They’re in there doing prehab – doing things to prevent further injuries or trying to strengthen a certain area of weakness that you have whether that be a ligament or joint or something like that.’’
Those ligaments and joints, Taylor added, need all the help they can get.
“You’re definitely putting your body at risk, and you just think about the amount of torque and things you’re putting on your body, your feet, your ankles, your joints,’’ he said. “There’s some guys in this league who are huge and who can move, and bodies really aren’t supposed to be built like that and be able to do those kind of things.’’
In the aftermath of Blackmon’s injury, that was a topic among players Wednesday.
“That joints and ligaments may get a little stronger, but they’re still joints and ligaments,’’ Taylor said. “You can add on muscle and increase speed. That’s what you have to do in order to play at a high level at this game.
“But there’s also the risk of injury.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.