WESTFIELD — One of the biggest crowds in the Colts’ brief history Saturday at Grand Park Sports Campus – 6,000-plus strong – was witness to what Frank Reich has been seeing since last season.
Michael Pittman Jr. is the real deal. Well, more than that.
“He’s a beast,’’ Reich said following Saturday night’s practice. “I see the same thing I saw last year.’’
Pittman wasn’t heavily involved in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work – three total catches from Matt Ryan – but one was Pittman-esque. The 6-4, 223-pounder was tightly covered by Stephon Gilmore along the right side on the first snap of 7-on-7 work, but used his length to high-point the catch.
“That’s exactly what he does,’’ Reich said, quickly adding, “he does a lot of things. He’s physical in the run game and we love to throw him those shallow routes and those crossing routes.
“Put it in his hands and let him run with it. He gets violent when he gets the ball in his hands.’’
That’s been Pittman’s reputation since the Colts selected him in round 2 of the 2020 draft: a violent runner after the catch, similar to his father, long-time NFL running back Michael Pittman Sr.
But Pittman might be dialing back that violence a bit.
“It’s definitely something I like to do that I’m trying to learn to manage it,’’ he said with a smile. “Sometimes there are times to take those hits and sometimes there are times to just get down.
“I’m trying to find that perfect middle ground.’’
Pittman heads into year 3 as the Colts’ unquestioned go-to receiver. He’s coming off a solid 2021: 88 catches, 1,082 yards, six touchdowns.
To help take another big step in his career progression, Pittman has spent extra time with Ryan, his third starting QB in as many seasons.
“We’ve thrown a bunch of sessions; I don’t even know a number,’’ he said. “We’ve got a lot of hours in.’’
Even so, they remain a work in progress. There were a couple of occasions Saturday when they were “off,’’ according to Pittman. The issue was Pittman getting to his spot on the route, but not necessarily being where Ryan expected him to be.
“Sometimes I just see grass and I’m gone, right?’’ Pittman said. “But I have to be on his spot basically on his footwork to actually time him up.
“That’s just learning to play with him.’’
The more the Colts get from Pittman, the better they’ll be.
“We feed off his energy,’’ Reich said. “I feel even more leadership from him in every way, in that room, on the field.
“What I love about Pitt is (he’s) the ultimate competitor. I think our offense and our team feed off that. We feel his toughness, we feel his competitiveness. For us to continue to grow as a team, that’s the kind of thing we need to build on.’’
Gilmore OK, Alie-Cox not
A sideline collision involved Gilmore and tight end Mo Alie-Cox. Gilmore grabbed his right hip as he remained on the field for a minute or two while Alie-Cox jogged back to the huddle.
As it turned out, Gilmore was fine. He quickly returned for a 7-on-7 session. But Alie-Cox finished practice with a wrap on one of his knees.
“Mo tweaked his knee a little bit but I don’t think it’s anything serious,’’ Reich said. “We just held him out just to be safe.’’
Ryan completed 5-of-8 passes in team drills Saturday night. That pushes his three-day totals to 20-for-25.
His best throw of the night came during 7-on-7 work. He took a deep drop to give Parris Campbell time to run a deep post. Ryan delivered a strike that a diving Campbell secured.
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You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.