INDIANAPOLIS — Deon Cain had been waiting quite a while to turn on the jets in a real game setting once again.
On Aug. 9, 2018, Cain went down with a season-ending knee injury in his very first NFL preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks. At the time the sixth-round pick had been impressing on a daily basis in training camp practices, showing exactly why he was a top weapon for the national champion Clemson Tigers.
On Saturday, Cain hauled in a game-best seven receptions for 80 yards in the Colts' second preseason game against the Cleveland Browns — this after knocking off the rust with two receptions for 15 yards in the Colts' 2019 preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills.
The way Cain has been moving, it's almost as if he never tore the ACL in his left knee just 375 days ago.
As with any return from injury, it's taken plenty of reps for Cain to get to where he is. That confidence, he hopes, should then continue to help him reach his true potential.
"It's been growing a lot," Cain said of that self-confidence. "I've just been making a lot of plays and and practice, been getting a little bit more reps, and I've been trying to take advantage of it and just really trying to keep going for it because I had a freak injury last year, but now I'm just trying to get better and to become that big-time receiver I could be."
Cain had a couple noteworthy catches against the Browns, but his best play was a 38-yard catch-and-run midway through the third quarter.
With Phillip Walker at quarterback for Indy following a Cleveland touchdown, the Colts faced a 1st and 10 from their own 25-yard line. Lined up in shotgun, Walker took the snap and immediately looked for Cain, who had lined up out wide to the left, opposite a trips formation on the opposite side of the line.
Browns cornerback Robert Jackson, who originally lined up across from Cain, took off on a blitz on the snap, leaving Cain in one-on-one coverage against safety J.T. Hassell. Thanks to a nice pickup by running back Aca'Cedric Ware on the blitzing Jackson, Walker had just enough time to find Cain on the slant route, delivering a perfect pass right in between Hassell and safety Sheldrick Redwine, who proceeded to whiff when trying to take Cain down once he caught the ball around the 40-yard line.
That allowed Cain the opportunity to stick his foot in the turf and take off, accelerating almost 25 more yards to the Cleveland 37-yard line before he was finally taken down by Hassell.
"It felt good because I've been trying to get a long run, but he kinda caught me real quick after I caught the ball," Cain said of that play. "I didn't really get into my sprinter stance, but it is what it is now. I just want to keep building off of that."
Now with nine receptions for 95 yards in two preseason games, Cain continues to have the attention of head coach Frank Reich, who said he's "very encouraged" by the receiver's progress after such a devastating injury.
"I think what he's been doing in practice showed up a little bit," Reich said. "You know, he's making plays. He's kind of picking up where he left off from last year.
"When you come back from an injury like that, every game you can get in, every catch just builds confidence."
Cain's journey is far from over, however. Two preseason games remain before the Colts cut down their 90-man roster into its 53-man regular season version, and Cain wants to continue doing what he can to earn one of those jobs come Week 1.
That means continuing to play like he practices.
"Practice makes perfect," Cain said. "If I make a play in a practice, I definitely got to make them in the game, and that's just gonna keep building my confidence as I keep going to these games and making plays. It's gonna keep getting better."