The Colts’ running back room is up in the air with a hamstring injury sidelining Marlon Mack and Robert Turbin suffering an ankle injury in the first preseason game, they have a lot to sort out before the regular season begins.
Running backs coach Tom Rathman talked as though any new signing would need to get up to speed and plan to play against the Ravens, then the Colts signed Branden Oliver. That means we should probably expect that he will play in week two of the preseason. Christine Michael and Nyheim Hines will likely see increased carries as well.
However, Those aren’t the guys I’m looking forward to seeing. After breaking down Jordan Wilkins’ first game, I was even more impressed than I was with him in real time. I think he has shown some real potential, and that he will be provided the perfect opportunity to showcase it in the next couple weeks.
Let’s go snap by snap and take a look at how Wilkins played in his Colts debut to see if we can spot any traits or trends that might give us a clue as to what to expect from this young back going forward.
Wilkins made a heads up play right away when Phillip Walker fumbled the snap and what could have been a turnover resulted in a short gain. I’d personally rather see Wilkins fall on that ball because the risk of bobbling it and having a turnover are high, but he saved a turnover, so he definitely gets credit for being quick to get after the ball.
On his next play Wilkins has very little to work with. Without the benefit of the coaches’ film for the preseason, you can see very little in the way of holes opening up, and you can be nearly certain that Marlon Mack last season was taking this ball to the outside. However, Wilkins sticks patiently, waiting for something to open up, and then slithers in between the left guard and tackle for a 6-yard gain. This isn’t a sexy play, but it is one that should be exciting to Colts fans who are used to seeing blocking like that yield a loss.
Another run where the blocking is subpar, #94 Rasheem Green is in the backfield and in position to make a stop for a loss. Wilkins just plants his right foot and gets upfield quickly, keeping his legs churning and resulting in a 5-yard gain. I cannot stress enough that while these kinds of runs aren’t exactly what makes a highlight reel, they are demoralizing to defenses and create great opportunities for the play action. When you have a guy in the backfield to make a stop and still give up 5 yards, that takes a toll on the defensive morale.
Here we see Wilkins making a play in the passing game. He releases into the flat as a checkdown option and Kaaya hits him with the pass. He makes a nice catch that looks like it will be stopped short of the first down line, but with a nifty spin he sheds his would-be tackler and buys himself about 5 more yards and most importantly a first down. If you’re noticing a trend here, you should be.
Wilkins is put in a position to get little or no gain, and manages to turn it into something. If this trend continues against the first team, it will tell us more, but his ability to win one-on-one matchups and to make plays when there really aren’t any there could be a huge addition to this running game.
In yet another example of making something out of nothing, we see another example of a defender getting virtually untouched into the backfield. He is basically arriving right as Wilkins gets the handoff. He plants his foot and gets around the edge before getting pushed out on the sideline. The play only results in 4 yards, but it could have and probably should have been a 4-yard loss. Hard not to like that turnaround.
In his worst play of the game so far, Wilkins goes around the left end and meets an unblocked linebacker. That linebacker is unblocked because guard Nick Callender is supposed to pull from the right side and instead of blocking either the defensive lineman or the linebacker he opts to stand there confused, blocking neither. Hitting either of those guys provides Wilkins with a chance at some sort of gain, but he went with none and the result was just a 1-yard gain. What is notable here, is that Wilkins is contacted 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He keeps his legs churning and falls forward for a gain instead of a 2-yard loss.
We won’t talk about the next drive, the one where the center/quarterback exchange resulted in three straight fumbles, the last of which resulted in a Seahawks touchdown. Let’s just say that Mark Glowinski should never be allowed to snap the ball again.
Here is the first time we see Wilkins used in pass protection. It isn’t great. Kaaya fakes the toss to him, and Wilkins seems to get caught up in selling the play and then is a bit out of position to effectively cut the defender. This is a pretty minor mistake, and one you expect rookies to make. Hopefully running backs coach Tom Rathman will have that kind of stuff cleaned up by the time the regular season rolls around.
Again, Wilkins finds himself met in the backfield on a running play. The poor blocking, and play in general of the 3rd team offensive line was hard to watch. There never is really a hole here for Wilkins to hit, but again he turns what might have been a 2-yard loss into a 2-yard gain. At some point, that kind of theme becomes pretty hard to ignore.
This was arguably the most impressive run of the day for Wilkins. It starts out just about like every other run he had. A linebacker embarrasses Erik Swoope and ends up in the backfield, meeting Wilkins about 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 1. In a game that matters, this play is the difference between kneeling the game away and giving the ball back to the other team with two minutes to drive for a field goal to win. Wilkins proves too slippery to hold, pushing forward and getting three yards, which effectively ends the game.
Frank Reich noticed the play too, and had this to say:
“Jordan had a couple runs, but that run at the end of the game — to ice the game — that is a big-time run. I mean that’s a huge run. Yeah, I mean the offensive line provided a little window, but make no mistake about it, those are the kind of plays that you look for. It doesn’t look like much. It is only a couple yard run, but as you guys all know, those are the kind of runs that win games.”
It would be foolish to look at just one game and draw too many conclusions. Wilkins was playing against defenders who might not make the Seahawks 53-man roster. The sample size was small. However, there are definitely some very good signs that indicate that Jordan Wilkins could be a major impact player for this team in the coming season.
When a player repeatedly gets positive yards despite being met in the backfield, it is tough to shrug off their success completely as going against inferior talent. It is also hard to ignore that Wilkins won’t be running behind that line during the regular season. He’ll have Quenton Nelson, not Jeremy Vujnovich blocking for him. Ryan Kelly not Mark Glowinski.
The most interesting thing is that because Marlon Mack is hurt, we are likely to see Wilkins get snaps with the first team in the next preseason game. If he can repeat his solid performance then, we’ll have a much better idea if this kid is going to be as special as I think he might be.