Long wait over as Colts’ Kemoko Turay returns

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This is a 2020 photo of Kemoko Turay of the Indianapolis Colts NFL football team. This image reflects the Indianapolis Colts active roster as of Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 when this image was taken. (AP Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – The incredible high was immediately followed by excruciating pain and a long, arduous rehabilitation.

“It was a journey,’’ Kemoko Turay said Friday on a Zoom conference call.

It ends Sunday – or at least takes the next major step – Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts meet the Green Bay Packers in Lucas Oil Stadium.

It began 13 months ago, and it will have been 414 days since Turay last lined up with his teammates and chased a quarterback with angry intentions.

The journey was necessitated and Turay’s patience tested on a weekly basis after he dislocated his right ankle and suffered ligament damage as well while helping sack Patrick Mahomes in the fourth quarter of the Colts’ 19-13 upset of the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium.

The primetime stunner of the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs – Oct. 5, 2019 – could have been a signature moment for Turay. The 2018 second-round draft pick had the shared sack with Jabaal Sheard, three other hits on Mahomes and two tackles.

Instead, there was the season-ending injury, surgery a few weeks later and a rehab that was interrupted and complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I did everything possible for me to get back and try to help the team and feeling confident again,’’ Turay said.

That included endless one-on-one sessions with Robert Mathis, the Colts’ career sack leader and pass-rush consultant. They worked on Turay’s technique and leverage, and how to best use his hands to spar with offensive linemen.

“Working with Robert Mathis just kept my confidence up, just being on the sidelines observing and watching film and it kept me motivated,’’ Turay said.

The rehab process accelerated when the Colts opened training camp in late July, but Turay nonetheless was placed on the physically unable to perform list. He worked tirelessly with the rehab staff while his teammates prepared for the season.

“Turay has done everything we’ve asked,’’ general manager Chris Ballard said as camp opened. “At the end of the day, he’s not ready and we’re not going to put a guy out there that’s not ready.

“We’re going to shoot for six weeks from now to try to get back.’’

It turned out to be a longer wait. Turay began practicing in mid-October.

Coach Frank Reich monitored Turay’s progress, and always seemed cautious when asked about his possible return.

“I don’t know if there was a setback,’’ Reich said Friday. “We did know it was going to take a long time. You guys know me, I tend to be optimistic. I was hoping it would’ve came a little faster.

“This is just my opinion, my observation . . . the last stage, the last phase of that recovery just didn’t quite get there as fast as it needs to get there for a guy to go out and play this game. We all know that’s a big step to go through, so credit to Kemoko on his perseverance and our training staff for continuing to work through that with him.’’

The last few weeks of practice not only convinced the coaching staff of Turay’s readiness, but Turay as well.

“I always have a high expectation of myself,’’ he said. “Coaches said I did good. Knowing that I missed so much time off, but I felt confident.

“I wasn’t thinking about the injury. It felt good. I felt good out there.’’

Turay undoubtedly will be on a pitch count against the Packers, but still should offer pass-rush help to the defense. In 18 games, he has 5.5 sacks, 18 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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