INDIANAPOLIS — Training camp injuries: pretty much no team completely avoids them, and the good ones know how to plug and play once they do happen.
For the Indianapolis Colts, these injuries have, unfortunately, been a common theme the past few weeks; just about every position group has been affected in one way or another.
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski admitted this week how frustrating those injuries have been to this point of the preseason, but did mention their silver lining.
"You're building depth," Chudzinski said. "Like I said, as frustrating as it can be at times right now, down the road it's going to pay dividends with some other guys."
Take JoJo Natson, for example. With wide receivers Donte Moncrief, Jacoby Brissett and Chester Rogers each dealing with various injuries the past few weeks, Natson — the undrafted rookie out of Akron — has really taken advantage of his extra reps in their place.
Through the team's two preseason games against the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, Natson is leading the Colts with eight receptions for 111 yards, has ran the ball one time for seven yards, and has also shown some ability in the return game, returning four kickoffs for 93 yards (23.3 avg.) and five punts for 33 yards (6.6 avg.).
"I think it's been great," Chudzinski said. "Guys like (JoJo) Natson have had a chance to go out and show what they can do."
The injuries have also been felt on the offensive line, where starting center Ryan Kelly suffered an injury to his foot, while top guards Joe Haeg and Jack Mewhort have been in and out of practice of late.
The goal for the entire starting unit is to have as much continuity as possible when the season begins, which is Chudzinski's "biggest concern" to this point.
"We have a lot of guys out. A lot of guys in part time and out part time," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time to get it done and that continuity is my biggest concern with guys coming back. We've spoken about it and talked about it. I've talked to them about it and guys understand."
Both Haeg and Mewhort, however, were able to play last Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys, while guys like Denzelle Good and Brian Schwenke are slowly being brought into the mix, as well.
"As they're coming back, it's good to see some guys back at practice this week and getting back into it and getting the rust off," Chudzinski said. "We've got to dust that rust off real fast."
Here are more takeaways from Chudzinski's weekly session with reporters:
• Chudzinski said he's "comfortable" with quarterback Scott Tolzien, now three weeks away from the 2017 regular season opener Sept. 10 against the Los Angeles Rams. Tolzien in two preseason starts has completed 12-of-19 passes (63.2 percent) for 94 yards.
"You look at the last game, obviously, when we get into a certain amount of time in those games it makes a difference – when you're playing a whole game you get the whole gamut of all of the situations that come up and those type of things," Chudzinski said. "I thought he managed the offense. Like I said before, we need to convert on some third downs and get some production and some points. Hopefully we'll be able to do that this week."
The Colts take on the Steelers Saturday night in Pittsburgh in their third preseason game.
• Rookie running back Marlon Mack "showed the ability to make some plays" last week in his NFL debut against the Cowboys, Chudzinski said. The fourth-round pick ran the ball five times for 45 yards, and also caught two passes for 14 yards. His presence, as well as his production, seemed to open things down the field for others, as well, as the Colts scored two touchdowns on drives in which he played.
"It wasn't too big for him and that he'll be able to help us in those ways," Chudzinski said of Mack. "Obviously, consistency and him learning again to continue with the offense and understand the big picture and not just running the ball. Those are the things that will have to come, but it was a good start for him."
The unknown for Mack — and, really, any rookie running back — is their effectiveness as a blocker, which is often overlooked, but still critical, for anybody playing the position. Chudzinski said Mack has proven in practice he's aware of what's going on in that regard; he just needs more game reps to put it on film.
"The games will tell the story with the physical part of it," Chudzinski said. "He's shown well out here in the drills – the physical part of the drills. So he'll just have to put it together in the game. Have to see that."
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