INDIANAPOLIS – There was encouraging news from the Indianapolis Colts Sunday afternoon, but it was overshadowed by T.Y. Hilton’s uncertainty.
While announcing quarterback Carson Wentz and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson were expected to participate in full team drills Monday for the first time in nearly a month – that’s the next critical phase in their rehab from foot surgery roughly four weeks ago in preparation for being available for the Sept. 12 opener against the Seattle Seahawks – Frank Reich confirmed the Indianapolis Colts will be without their veteran receiver for “some games.’’
“We don’t know exactly how many,’’ he said. “We’re optimistic it’s not season ending.’’
The issue is a disc problem that Hilton apparently had been dealing with during the preseason and aggravated on the final day of training camp last Wednesday. He went up between a pair of defenders and caught a deep pass from Wentz, but landed awkwardly. He was treated by trainers and returned to finish practice.
“He had felt it before then,’’ Reich said.
On the team flight Thursday to Detroit for the preseason finale, Hilton experienced more discomfort.
“They got scans done,’’ Reich said. “It was a disc issue. That’s a complicated issue so there’s more meetings, more evaluation to come, more opinions to come.
“Obviously want to do our due diligence there.’’
The receivers’ room is one of the Colts’ deepest areas, but there’s no overstating the loss of Hilton for any length of time.
As camp unfolded, his presence always was apparent. Also, once Wentz returned to 7-on-7 work last week at Grand Park Sports Campus, his connectivity with Hilton began heating up.
“It’s unfortunate,’’ Reich said. “I had said several times to Chris (Ballard) I really thought T.Y. was looking as good this training camp as I’ve seen him. He looked as fast as ever and just as instinctive as ever.
“Even in the short time he and Carson worked together, I could tell instant connection and I could feel that talking to Carson. That’s unfortunate, but the good news is (others) will step up.’’
That group includes Michael Pittman Jr., the 2020 second-round draft pick; Zach Pascal, who has increased his productivity and value in each of the last three seasons; and Parris Campbell, who realizes the importance of avoiding the injuries that have sabotaged his first two seasons and help pick up the slack until Hilton returns.
“Obviously we know as a receiver group with our No. 1 guy being out, we all have to step up,’’ Campbell said. “I’ll approach it the same: just being myself. Being in here in year 3, going through what I went through, I’ve already known I needed to step up and I needed to bring what I know I can bring to this team.
“We all feel for T.Y. and we all want him to get back as healthy as he can, as fast as he can. But it’s definitely an opportunity for young guys to step up and make plays because we’ve all got to carry that load. That’s a big load. That’s a big loss. We’ve got to carry that load, for sure.’’
A myriad of significant injuries have limited Campbell’s availability since being selected in round 2 of the 2019 draft (59th overall). He’s appeared in nine games with 24 receptions, 198 yards and one touchdown. He missed the final 14 games last season with a knee injury.
Campbell insisted he’s “100% healthy and I say that with a smile on my face.
“That was my No. 1 goal, to get through camp as healthy as I could. It’s a blessing man, all glory to God.’’
In the blink of an eye, Pascal becomes the veteran of the group. He’s 26, heading into his fourth season and coming off the best year of his career: 44 receptions, 629 yards, five TDs.
“You don’t want to see your top guy go down,’’ he said, “but everybody in that room got to add a little more play to help (fill) that hole. Wishing him the best.
“He’ll still be around. He’s still the leader of our group, helping us out.’’
In Hilton’s absence, it also will be incumbent for Pittman to take that significant step in year 2.
After dealing with a serious lower leg injury early in his rookie season, Pittman amassed 40 catches for 503 yards and one TD in 13 games. He topped out with a seven-catch, 101-yard game at Tennessee and added five catches for 90 yards in the playoff loss at Buffalo.
“Pitt has made a really huge jump,’’ Campbell said. “I wasn’t around for a lot last year; I was kind of watching from the side. But Pitt’s a smart guy. He hops in the field and he knows exactly what he’s doing.
“His vision is always just elevated. He sees things before they happen. He’s really a smart player.’’
Wentz, Nelson update
The upcoming week is more than a little significant for Wentz and Nelson.
Each required foot surgery; Aug. 2 for Wentz, the next day for Nelson.
Each returned to practice last week, although not in team sessions.
Each must prove his rehab has reached the point his foot is able to endure the rigors not only of a full practice, but consecutive practices.
“This will be a big week to determine where those two guys are,’’ Reich said.
The week has been structured to test the injuries while initially not overdoing it. There’s a normal full practice Monday – again, Wentz and Nelson are expected to work in team drills – followed by a lighter walkthrough Tuesday, another padded practice Wednesday and a shorter practice Thursday.
Reich said the team wants to be certain its two offensive mainstays will be ready for unlimited work Sept. 8, which is the Wednesday leading up the Seahawks opener.
“They’re going to have to prove they can bounce back from a good day’s work,’’ Reich said.
Nelson’s availability for Monday is contingent upon being removed from the COVID-19 list, which is the expectation. He entered the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol last Thursday as a close contact individual.
Offensive tackle Eric Fisher’s rehab from a torn Achilles hit a snag when he was placed on the COVID-19 list with a positive test last Thursday.
The team said he was asymptomatic, but Fisher must continue his rehab on his own while in quarantine. The Colts have been optimistic about when Fisher might be ready to play, and Reich reinforced that notion Sunday.
“It’s a stinking shame because, man, I think he was tracking. I think he’s doing really well,’’ he said. “This is a little blip, a little bump in the road for him. Not for his recovery, but for his timetable. But you never know.
“We’re going to keep every option open, but logically speaking you have to say this is a little bump in the road just as far as timing, but he’s at a good spot physically as far as his Achilles goes.’’
Reich was unable to provide any specifics regarding a shoulder injury that has forced starting defensive end Tyquan Lewis to miss several days of training camp.
“It’s just been slower than we wanted,’’ he said. “He’s working at it day-by-day, but . . . it’s one of those deals that you just can’t rush it. We’ll keep hoping for the best.’’
Might Lewis miss week 1?
“We’re not ready to say that, yet,’’ Reich said.
Offensive tackle Sam Tevi will miss the season after damaging the anterior cruciate and medial collateral knee ligaments at Detroit. The Colts signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million free-agent contract during the offseason.
Roster cuts loom
The injuries figure to complicate roster cuts. The 90-player roster must be trimmed to 53 by 4 p.m. Tuesday.
A few players might be initially carried on the 53-player, then placed on the injured reserve list. That will require the player to miss the first three games. Placing someone on IR prior to the cut deadline ends his season.
“In some ways it’s unique, but I think we’ll handle it in the right way,’’ Reich said. “We want to make sure we get the right diagnosis and the right process in place for guys who are injured to get them back as soon as possible.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.