Another week and a new group of rookies had an impact on the game. The regulars to this point include Jonathan Taylor on offense, Julian Blackmon on defense and Rodrigo Blankenship on special teams. However, a new name put himself in the mix on Sunday and added another weapon to the Colts receiver room.
Once again, Jonathan Taylor was the focal point for the Colts offense out of the backfield. He took just under 60% of the offensive snaps and was utilized in a variety of roles, including as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He carried the ball 12 times for 60 yards and added 4 receptions on his 4 targets for 55 yards including a 22 yard scamper to start Indy’s first offensive series.
Taylor showed some improvement with his vision, finding cutback lanes and picking up extra yards, even if doing so meant abandoning the opportunity to run behind All Pro guard Quenton Nelson. He needs to continue to develop in this capacity but has clearly earned the trust of this coaching staff moving forward.
Taylor was joined by fellow rookie De’Michael Harris in having an offensive impact on Sunday. Harris was originally signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2020 NFL Draft and faced an uphill battle to not just make the team, including its practice squad, but to work his way into a chance to get offensive reps with an abbreviated and atypical offseason schedule.
Harris showed visible speed on Sunday and was used primarily on short crossing patterns, outs, and receiver screen plays. He caught all three of his targets for 29 yards and gives the Colts offense a bit of the element it has been missing since Parris Campbell suffered an early season injury.
With Michael Pittman potentially making a return to the lineup after the Colts bye, it will be worth monitoring Harris.
The only rookie contributor to the defense in this one was Julian Blackmon. As noted earlier this season, the defense is filled with talent and depth, making it difficult for rookies to earn a big role. Well, that’s unless the rookie is Julian Blackmon.
Since Blackmon was forced into the starting lineup after Malik Hooker suffered an injury just before the end of the first half in Week 2, he has been a difference-maker. To this point, Blackmon has 2 interceptions, deflected a pass that was intercepted by Khari Willis, and has accumulated 6 passes defensed. His efforts have come in a variety of packages. The ball-hawking role in the passing game has flashed numerous times, his speed and ability to cover ground has been apparent, and he has laid hits that are rare for someone his size.
The Colts may have uncovered a future superstar in Blackmon and nothing to this point has suggested that he’ll slow down anytime soon.
It’s incredible to see how big of a difference special teams makes for an NFL franchise. A season ago the Colts were hoping Adam Vinatieri would get things figured out and return to his dominant ways. Those hopes were partially responsible for numerous losses and likely cost the Colts a shot at the playoffs.
This year, rookie Rodrigo Blankenship appeared to show nerves in training camp. It was popular opinion in the media the Chase McLaughlin would win the kicking competition due to his experience and proven NFL ability, and due to the shortened offseason. Chris Ballard and his staff went with Blankenship instead and have been rewarded. He has missed a couple of field goals this year, but he’s one of the league’s most accurate to this point in the season, entered Week 6 as the league’s top scorer, and has clearly settled in with his teammates in Indianapolis.
One thing we discussed early with Blankenship is that he was a unique personality who offered more than a placekicker traditionally does in terms of his locker room leadership and presence. Expect that Blankenship will continue to come along in his NFL career and could become the next big personality for the Colts out of the special teams unit.