INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts' sideline at times this season has resembled a bingo hall with how often new numbers have been called at various positions on both sides of the ball.
And on Thursday night against the Denver Broncos, for the first time all season, the Colts called on No. 50 to get a chance to play some live downs with the defense.
Entering in the third quarter after injuries to starter Jon Bostic and backup Jeremiah George, rookie inside linebacker Anthony Walker would actually end up playing 29 defensive snaps, logging four tackles in the Colts' 25-13 loss at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"Today my number was called due to some guys getting injured and I just try to make the most of it," Walker said after the game. "That's all it's about — next man up, and Coach Chuck (Pagano) always preaches that, and you know you just need to be ready when your number is called."
A fifth-round selection in this year's NFL Draft, Walker actually saw extensive action at inside linebacker — and even started two games — during the preseason, and headed into the regular season as a special teams contributor with the chance to work his way into some defensive snaps along the way.
But a nagging hamstring injury suffered Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams would keep Walker away from the field in six of the Colts' next seven games. He came into Thursday night's game having played in the team's last five games, but was yet to play a single snap with the defense.
But Walker's confidence never wavered. He said he's appreciated the way the veteran Bostic and others have taken him under their wings to continue preparing him for the intricacies of playing inside linebacker at a high level, which paid off on Thursday.
"You talk about the older guys in the linebacker room — again, I'm the baby, so Jon Bostic, Antonio Morrison, all of those guys, I learn a lot from them and I'm still learning as you guys can see," Walker said. "Just being around those guys and being in my playbook (has helped)."
That Walker has continued working hard within the playbook is no surprise seeing that he was a member of National Honor Society and attended Northwestern, earning a degree in Learning and Organizational Change, with a minor in Finance and Marketing.
That kind of preparation and background made him remain confident when he stepped onto the field with the defense against the Broncos in the two teams' primetime matchup in Indy.
"Coach Herm (Jim Herrmann) and everybody believed in me," said Walker, whose four tackles all came on run plays that combined for just 13 yards. "And it wasn't my first rodeo. Getting the preseason snaps were pretty much my preparation and practice reps as well, so when my number is called I was just trying to go out there and do what I had to do to help the team win, and we weren't able to get the job done today."
As much as preseason snaps and practice reps are critical, they still can't replicate the intensity of a regular season game, especially when there is a mixture of rookie backups and veteran starters on the field working together.
More than anything, at this point of the season, the live reps are a great learning experience for the young players, as head coach Chuck Pagano shared in his press conference after the game.
"Yeah, they're valuable," Pagano said. "They're learning some tough lessons, but you stay with it and you learn the tough lessons and if you're able to correct them and move forward, then it'll be a good thing down the road."
Walker, originally from South Florida, understands he needs to put in the physical and continue preparing like he is a starter. He realizes that process is a journey and wants to help the Colts succeed in any way he can.
"It definitely was tough," Walker said. "The whole season just kind of battling through injuries and missing time and playing special teams and stuff. But like I said, I'm always here to help the team and do whatever I have to do."