INDIANAPOLIS — Devin Funchess might have been placed on injured reserve after the first game of the regular season, but he's remained a part of the Indianapolis Colts' offensive plans.
And now it could just be a matter of days before the team can start the process of putting those plans to action once again.
The Colts could choose to return Funchess — who went on injured reserve Sept. 10 after undergoing surgery to his clavicle — to practice as soon as next week; if or when he does return to practice, that sets in motion a 21-day timeline the team faces to return the wide receiver to the active roster or revert him to IR.
That means if Funchess does indeed return to the active roster, he could make his return to game action as soon as the Colts' Week 11 contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts haven't yet said exactly if or when Funchess could return to practice, but head coach Frank Reich told Colts.com's Matt Taylor earlier this week he's been encouraged with the rehab work the receiver has been putting in.
"Devin's making good progress, and getting closer each week," Reich said. "So we'll get him back in there as soon as we can."
Funchess was one of the Colts' primary free-agent pickups this offseason, as he brought needed size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) and playmaking ability (21 touchdowns over his first four NFL seasons) to the team's wide receiver corps.
Those attributes were on full display in Indy's Week 1 contest on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers, as he hauled in three passes for 32 yards, none of which were bigger than his eight-yard reception on 4th and 3 from the Chargers' 49-yard line during the Colts' final game-tying drive, as he dragged cornerback Brandon Facyson about four extra yards before being brought down on the Indianapolis sideline.
But later in that drive, quarterback Jacoby Brissett, on 1st and 10 from the Chargers' 19-yard line, fired a pass deep down the left sideline for Funchess, who was in one-on-one coverage against Facyson. Funchess was able to haul in the pass in the end zone, but landed out of bounds — and directly on his left shoulder.
Funchess underwent surgery the next day, and was subsequently placed on IR.
NFL teams can return two players from injured reserve each season; they must sit out at least six weeks before returning to practice, and they must sit out at least eight weeks before they can return to game action, though the bye week does not count in that equation, meaning Week 11 is the earliest Funchess could return.
Entering Sunday's Week 7 matchup against the Houston Texans, the Colts only have two players on IR: Funchess and defensive end Kemoko Turay; Turay's ankle injury, suffered Week 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs, is considered season-ending, however.
To prepare for Funchess' potential return, Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni have ensured the wide receiver has been active in team meetings, especially of late. The team still has four games left until Funchess can make his earliest possible return, but want him to be right back in the thick of things as soon as he's back on the active roster.
"(We're) trying to keep him engaged by just letting him know he is still in our plans, he is still there with us and obviously we haven't forgot about him," Sirianni said Monday.
With Funchess out, the Colts have relied on a mix of receivers to pick up the slack, including Deon Cain, Parris Campbell, Zach Pascal and Chester Rogers, who have combined for 27 receptions for 319 yards and three touchdowns this season. Top wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, meanwhile, has remained his productive self, as he has 24 receptions for 232 yards and four touchdowns entering Sunday's game against the Texans.
But Reich has indicated he wants to see more consistency in the passing game down the field, as the Colts currently get six yards per pass attempt, ranking 28th in the NFL. Funchess' potential return could provide a nice shot in the arm in that category.
"Obviously we're calling more runs than normal, so there's just not as many pass plays," Reich told Taylor. "As a percentage, we're probably still under where we want to be, so, yes, we do want to have more production there, more big plays. That's something we're always working on."