OK, the title is a tad misleading because Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Griff Whalen has seen action in other games this season. However, Sunday against the Houston Texans was Whalen's true debut. He caught 4 passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown - a 14-yard reception from his old Stanford teammate, Andrew Luck - was the first touchdown the Colts had scored on their opening drive in 12 weeks.
Whalen also was used as a returner, fielding one kick return and three punt returns. On punts, he averaged 22.3 yards a return, which is pretty good for a someone thrust into the job so quickly.
Whalen's impact on the game was made even more impressive by how, just a week prior, he'd been on the practice squad. All season long, Whalen has floated between the Colts active roster, their practice squad, and unemployment. Like his follow, one-time practice squad mate Da'Rick Rogers, who was himself elevated to the active roster recently, Whalen is making the most of his opportunities.
Our own Josh Wilson tweeted this out last night:
Per the Colts press releases, here are the percentages of offensive snaps played for the WRs in each of last 6 games. pic.twitter.com/HL8gUsxeRM— Josh Wilson (@Coltsfanwilson) December 18, 2013
Notice the progression of playing time for Rogers and, recently, Whalen. Conversely, take note of the decreased snaps for Darrius Heyward-Bey, the man general manager Ryan Grigson inked to a one-year, $2.5 million deal.
It's worth noting that part of the reason that Whalen was called up on Sunday had to do with a foot injury to fellow second-year teammate LaVon Brazill. All last week, the coaching staff told the media that was expected to play against Houston. He didn't, and it was Whalen who got a majority of his snaps. Early signs point to Brazill returning to the lineup against the Chiefs this weekend in a critical game that could decide playoff seeding for Indianapolis and Kansas City.
The question, how much will Brazill's return cut into Whalen's snaps? Even better question: Will Heyward-Bey see any time at receiver against the Chiefs? Sunday against Houston, DHB was used on special teams for the first time ever while with the Colts.
That strongly suggests that Heyward-Bey's usefulness to Pep Hamilton and he offense has completely eroded, and the coaching staff is trying to find some way to use him.