The rookie wall was right in front of the Indianapolis Colts' rookies. They hit it. Then they bounced up. That reflex must be part of being “ChuckStrong.”
These 8-4 Indianapolis Colts are rookie-heavy, especially on offense. They start four first-year players at the skill spots: quarterback Andrew Luck, running back Vick Ballard, and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton might as well be a starter.
“We had more mental errors by those guys in our receiving corps and tight end corps than we've had in a number of weeks,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. “But again, they were able to settle down and get refocused and make plays coming down the stretch.”
One of Luck's telling quotes after the wild 35-33 win at Detroit: “I think we have a bunch of guys in the locker room maybe who don't know any better.”
As the Colts prepare for a 1 p.m. home game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, here's a quick look at the rookies' significant contributions:
What can be said about Luck that hasn't already been said? He's been praised widely, and deservedly so. The fact he can bounce back from bad plays or poor decisions is one of his best attributes.
He has eight wins, the most by a No.1-drafted quarterback in history. He has 3,596 yards passing, behind only the rookie seasons of Cam Newton (4,051) and Peyton Manning (3,739). He has five game-winning fourth-quarter or overtime drives – tied with Vince Young and Ben Roethlisberger for the most by a rookie.
He's lived up to every expectation.
Hilton caught six passes for 100 yards at Detroit, giving him four 100-yard games and breaking the Colts rookie record set by Andre Rison.
He has 39 catches for 588 yards and a team-best five touchdown receptions. Hilton also has a punt-return touchdown and the intelligence to study Reggie Wayne on how to be a great NFL receiver.
Ballard carried the ball only nine times for 41 yards at Detroit, but scored his first rushing touchdown. (He had a rather memorable receiving touchdown to win at Tennessee.)
Ballard has 468 yards rushing at 3.7 yards per carry. The potential is there.
The second tight end drafted by the Colts, Allen has 36 catches for 435 yards – fourth on the team behind Wayne, Donnie Avery and Hilton – and a pair of touchdowns. He made a veteran step-out-of-bounds catch in the final drive Sunday.
He's also become a go-to player for quotes before and after games. He has the biggest personality among the rookies.
“We're in the hunt for the playoffs," he said. “We definitely improved in the two-minute drill. To go down and win (at Detroit) was unbelievable. This locker room was electrifying.”
Fleener, the Colts' second pick in the draft, returned from injury and caught his first touchdown pass from his old college buddy Luck.
Afterward, he performed a “jackhammer” celebration that Luck jokingly (or not) proclaimed “embarrassing.”
Fleener has a dry sense of humor and loads of on-field potential, too.
Brazill hasn't made as quick a transition to the NFL game, but there wasn't a more timely play than his 42-yard touchdown catch from Luck on the Colts' next-to-last fourth-quarter drive. He has speed. He has hands. He'll get even better.
Josh Chapman, Chandler Harnish
These two rookies haven't played for different reasons. Chapman, the nose tackle, is on injured reserve, still rehabbing his messed-up knee. Harnish, the quarterback, spent time on the active roster before moving to the practice squad. The former Norwell standout's contribution is behind the scenes, joining Drew Stanton in helping Luck develop.
It's a measure of Colts camaraderie that Harnish still feels like a full part of the team, rushing the field to celebrate the latest in an improbable season.
This is kind of like the first year for all Colts players this time around. The newness hasn't worn off.
“We don't know no better,” veteran defensive end Cory Redding said. “We just keep playing. We always say, 'Don't look at the scoreboard. Just keep playing.' When the clock says 'zero,' look up and see where we're at.”