INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Curiosity quickly gave way to concern.
Wednesday’s practice had barely begun when a player went down and stayed down.
“It was like the first, second play of practice,’’ Zach Pascal said Friday afternoon. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh, who got hurt?’’’
Turns out it was T.Y. Hilton, who suffered a calf injury – non-contact variety – and remained on the ground for more than a few seconds.
“When he was kind of down for a long time it was like, ‘Oh, he is really hurt,’’’ Pascal continued. “It was ‘Let’s just keep working, keep grinding.
“Hopefully he’ll be back soon.’’
It certainly won’t be Sunday when the Colts attempt to turn the page on their one-sided history against the Steelers in Pittsburgh (2-15, including the playoffs).
Surgery isn’t required, but Frank Reich revealed every indication is the injury – generally speaking – is “a three-to-four week’’ issue.
“Everybody responds differently,’’ he said. “We’ll see how it goes.
“We all know T.Y. is T.Y. He’ll heal as fast as anybody can possibly heal and we’ll get him ready to go.’’
So, now what? How does the offense adjust to losing its most lethal threat in the passing game?
It moves on, just as it did in week 4 against Oakland – a 31-24 loss it must be noted – when a quadriceps injury sidelined Hilton. Or when injuries have forced so many other front-line players to miss time: Darius Leonard, Malik Hooker, Jabaal Sheard, Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore II, Clayton Geathers. Desir is doubtful Sunday with a hamstring issue.
“T.Y.’s a special player,’’ Pascal said. “It’s unfortunate he got hurt, but just like early in the season with the quarterback situation, it’s next man up.’’
He was referring to the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck. Jacoby Brissett stepped into the maelstrom and has the Colts atop the AFC South with a 5-2 record.
“It’s next man up,’’ said Pascal, who probably used that phrase a dozen times. “That’s our mentality. As a team, just hold it down until he comes back.’’
That might be the Nov. 21 trip to Houston, or the Dec. 1 home game with Tennessee.
In the short term, others once again must help fill the void created by a teammate’s absence.
“I’m not going to say one player makes a team,’’ Pascal said. “T.Y. is a special player. But in order to win games, we have to keep going. The next man has to step up.
“We’re going to be as good as the next man.’’
Reich and Brissett have talked with the team about dealing with life without Hilton for the next few games. The message: do your job.
“Nobody has to press,’’ Reich said. “Nobody has to come in and try to be the hero in his absence.
“You’ve just got to play football.’’
Perhaps, but the magnitude of Hilton’s absence can’t be overstated. Not only are the Colts not the same without him, but they’re also winless in the five games he’s missed since being selected in the third round of the 2012 draft.
The quick rundown:
- week 4 this year against Oakland (a quad injury), a 31-24 loss.
- week 5 of 2018 against New England (chest), a 38-24 loss.
- week 6 of ’18 against the New York Jets (chest), a 42-34 loss.
- week 16 of ’14 at Dallas (hamstring), a 42-7 loss.
- the 2012 season opener at Chicago (shoulder), a 31-21 loss.
Reich is confident in Hilton’s teammates and optimistic they’ll share the load until he returns. But he also conceded the offense has struggled without its unquestioned catalyst in the passing game.
Against the Raiders, Brissett passed for 265 yards and three touchdowns but was ineffective throughout much of the game. With 10 minutes remaining, Oakland led 24-10 and Brissett was 15-of-27 for 113 yards and one touchdown. He piled up 150 yards on two late drives, including 48 on a touchdown to Eric Ebron with 1:10 to play.
“Not only confident, I’m excited,’’ Reich said, looking ahead to Sunday’s game and beyond. “Obviously not for T.Y. We’re obviously losing a great player.
“I’m excited for our guys. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen Zach step up. Parris (Campbell) is now healthy and he’ll get some more reps. It’s probable that Deon (Cain) will be up and we’ll get him back in the mix.
“It’s kind of by committee. We’ll spread it around. I’m excited for these guys. I’m genuinely excited. We lost T.Y. early this year and you struggle for a little bit. But what you learn is it’s a great opportunity. You’ve got confidence in your players and they’ve got to step up.’’
The reliance on Hilton to this point has been significant and magnifies the task of everyone picking up the slack while he heals.
Even with the one missed game, Hilton leads the team in targets (46), catches (32), yards (360) and touchdowns (five). Pascal ranks second each category (21, 14, 245 and 3).
More to the point, consider the combined stats of the five receivers on the active roster (Pascal, Campbell, Chester Rogers and Ashton Dulin): 63 targets, 37 receptions, 462 yards, five TDs.
In all likelihood, Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni will lean heavily on tight ends Ebron and Jack Doyle and running backs Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines.
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