Shortly after the Colts wrapped up their final preseason game back in August, quarterback Matt Ryan laid out a challenge rookie wide receivers often face early in their NFL careers.
"It's one thing to be open, it's another thing to be open in the timing of the play," Ryan said. "You can either win too early or win too late – not going to help us. You've got to win in the timing of the play."
Ryan went on to add that he saw Alec Pierce, the Colts' 2022 second-round pick from Cincinnati, do a good job in learning how to get open within the timing of a play at the NFL level.
A month later, when the Colts needed critical yards late in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Ryan looked Pierce's way – and trusted him to get open within the timing of the play.
With 75 seconds remaining and the Colts down by four points, Ryan dropped back to pass with Pierce lined up wide to the near side of the field. Ryan took a three-step drop from the shotgun and quickly ripped a throw to Pierce, whose back was turned to his quarterback when the ball was released. Pierce came out of his break as the ball was in the air and adjusted his body to make a diving catch to his left, picking up 14 yards and setting up Ryan's game-winning touchdown to tight end Jelani Woods two plays later.
That Ryan trusted Pierce to be open within the timing of the play spoke to the growing rapport between the veteran quarterback and young wide receiver.
"It all comes to trust and more time being in the system," Pierce said. "He's throwing more balls to me every week, just even in practice and all that. So it's just building that trust and getting reps."
Fast-forward to Week 4, and Ryan looked Pierce's way six times, completing four of those passes for 80 yards, including a 44-yard heave Pierce hauled in late in the Colts' 24-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Pierce has earned that increased trust by being at the right spot at the right time in the routes that are called, in addition to his go-up-and-get-it ability on contested deep balls.
"A lot of times we're getting softer coverage and zone the last couple weeks," Pierce said. "We talk about depth, timing, accuracy – DTA, that's Matt's big thing. So my part is really the depth and the timing."
In the larger picture of the Colts' offense, the emergence of Pierce and Woods has provided some encouraging signs to head coach Frank Reich about what the passing game can do in 2022. Against the Titans, the Colts also got key contributions in the passing game from tight ends Mo Alie-Cox (six catches, 85 yards, two touchdowns) and Kylen Granson (four catches, 62 yards) as well as wide receiver Parris Campbell (four catches, 43 yards).
"What I'm excited about is everybody is talking about hey, we've got two rookie playmakers who are starting to shine – Alec Pierce and Jelani," Reich said. "That's very promising. Parris had a nice day. I think this is showing Matt we got weapons. We got weapons and feel confident that if we have to throw it more, we will and we can be productive doing that. I think we showed that yesterday against Tennessee. If we have to throw it more, we will."
Monday's practice report: