Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor runs in a 2019 game.
MADISON, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 07: Jonathan Taylor #23 of the Wisconsin Badgers warms up before the game against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Camp Randall Stadium on September 07, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

How Will Colts Handle No Preseason For Rookies?

INDIANAPOLISFrank Reich knows the immense challenge rookies across the NFL are facing in 2020.

No preseason games. No joint practices. No chance to make an impression with the bright lights on before roster cuts come.

“Does it hurt them? Yeah, realistically it does hurt them a little bit,” Reich acknowledges.

For the handful of Day 3 picks, and undrafted free agents in 2020, they are unquestionably climbing a steep mountain to earn a roster spot, and possible playing time in Year One.

But the Colts feel like that the three weeks of full-padded practices will be enough for the important eyes to notice those emerging.

“Without question the more reps you can see of a guy, the better,” Reich says. “(But) we all think we are pretty good evaluators in this building so naturally I think we feel confident we’re going to be able to figure out who it is that should make our team and who is going to help us the most.”

Knowing the circumstances facing every team in the NFL this year, Reich and Chris Ballard are choosing to search for positives in this current situation.

No preseason games means there’s no need to scale back practices in the 48 hours before a game, or the immediate session after said game.

“The other side of it though without the preseason games, we are going hard in practices,” Reich says. “So you don’t have to slow down the day before a preseason game. Every practice you are working, your opportunities in there.”

To try and get more of a ‘game-like’ feel and look to camp, the Colts are planning to hold a couple of practices down at Lucas Oil Stadium.

In prior years, the cliché of practice squad guys needing to prepare like starters has never rung truer (and the practice squad has increased to 16), which is something Ballard is stressing.

One advantage the Colts might have over other teams is with how their rookie class looks compared to the rest of the roster.

Obviously, Michael Pittman and Jonathan Taylor will be expected to contribute right away, and they are two of the more NFL-ready rookies, given their collegiate resume.

But after those two, it’s hard to see where else the Colts are counting on serious rookie impact, with or without the COVID influence on this offseason.

Ballard and Reich were both pleased with the shape that the rookie class came in last week.

And, if you listen to the GM, the Colts still feel they’ll get a chance to see the rookies that flash, even if their chance to impress is a far cry from a normal offseason.

“I hear the talk about the rookies and then all the missed extra reps that the rookies have had, and yeah it’s going to impact them,” Ballard begins. “But, look, 31 other teams are dealing with the same things we’re dealing with and every rookie is dealing with this. If they’re talented like we think they are, and even the undrafted free agents, they’ll show. We’ll give them a chance to show. If we think they can play a role and help us, they’ll make the team. They are good players. They have been playing this game a while now. We’re not talking about the first time they’re ever putting on a uniform and touching the football. These guys have played football.

“I actually think for rookies, because they wear down, if you think about it, they go through their whole season, a lot of them play bowl games, then they go into pure training mode for the combine, they go to the combine, then they have pro days, a ton of (NFL) visits, then they get drafted or as an undrafted free agent by a team, they go all of May, all of June. They really get about a three-week break or four-week break and then they’re kicking up camp. It is a grind for a rookie. It will be interesting to see.”

Indeed, it will.

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