INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts’ wide receiver corps could use a shot in the arm as of late, and now some veteran assistance is on the way.
On Tuesday, the Colts announced the signing of free agent wide receiver Dontrelle Inman. The fifth-year pro brings experience (30 starts in 49 games), size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and solid route running to the mix.
Between injuries and issues with drops — Pro Football Focus has the Colts with 15 of them in the last three games — the abilities and presence Inman brings to the table could help the receivers get their mojo back.
Inman realizes that'll be a process, however.
“I’ve just gotta get my teammates to trust me, that’s it. Just be consistent,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “Consistent guys in this league continue to grow, continue to be the guys who coaches look on, quarterbacks look on and teammates look upon as well.”
The team has been without perennial Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton since he left Week 4’s contest early with chest and hamstring injuries — although he did return to practice on Wednesday. Last week, Ryan Grant left the game early with an ankle issue, and Marcus Johnson was likely lost for the remainder of the year with ligament damage in his ankle.
With the amount of injuries at the position, it tugs on the “next man up” mantra. While there is no concern over the effort of any of these players, coaches have emphasized consistency and focusing on the details to get them out of this temporary funk.
With 30 starts under his belt, Inman certainly can help provide some of that veteran consistency he strives to bring. It’s a presence that Colts head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni saw in Inman when their paths crossed with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers.
Reich was around as Inman's offensive coordinator from 2014-15 before moving on to the same position with the Philadelphia Eagles. Sirianni — first the quarterbacks coach and then wide receivers coach — was with Inman for the receiver’s entire stay with the Chargers from 2014-17.
“I always kept in touch with Frank, even when I was with the Chargers (and Reich had moved on to Philadelphia),” Inman said. “We’d text back and forth. Same with Nick, when I got traded to Chicago, we always shared information and kept in touch.”
Now, the three are reunited in the same building.
“Dontrelle is a solid wide receiver who has made a lot of plays in the NFL. He knows our system. He knows the terminology and he’s always been a really quick processor who helped other guys get lined up,” Sirianni told reporters this week. “So knowing what to do and how we kind of coach wide receivers. He’s been with us for four years so he knows exactly what’s expected of wide receivers just based off of how long we have been with him.
“He gives us a big body, a reliable target that again, knows our offense and can run some of the routes in our offense very well," Sirianni continued. "We’ve always thought on a couple routes, we’re like – and we had some good receivers in San Diego – ‘Man, that guy runs these couple routes unlike anybody else we have.’”
Although Hilton has returned to practice — he was, to the surprise of some, a full participant on Wednesday — Grant was unable to practice on Wednesday. Near the end of last week’s game, Chester Rogers and Zach Pascal were the only Colts wide receivers available, with all of 11 career starts between them. It left an opportunity for a veteran presence to be filled, which Inman is looking forward to grasping.
“Just the consistency, being a reliable guy. Studying, being a veteran,” Inman says he can add to the Colts’ receiver room. “Try to be the standard no matter what I do. No matter the adversity, at the end of the day try to be the standard.”
Inman said he expects to play against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, and Sirianni acknowledged that they probably do need him to play, although they’ll need to see how this week goes since Inman has yet to play this season.
With Inman’s previous experience with Reich and Sirianni, he is confident in what could be handed his way if he does play on Sunday.
“I’m good, I’m good. It’s all memorization, it’s all football at the end of the day,” Inman said. “A lot of these offenses in the league are the same; it’s a copycat league, so all you have to do is put what you’ve learned with the new stuff that gets put in front of you.”
COMING FULL CIRCLE
Reich and Sirianni weren’t on the first NFL coaching staff that Inman experienced, but they were on the one that helped break him out into the league. That can all be traced back to an old connection of Reich’s.
Inman entered the NFL in 2011 when he was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia, but the NFL’s lockout that offseason put the rookie behind once training camp began, and he was released during final cuts.
Inman’s career next took him to the Canadian Football League and the Toronto Argonauts, where he played two seasons and won a Grey Cup championship in 2012.
But Inman always kept his eye on getting another chance in the NFL. And it would be a recommendation by his coach in Toronto, Scott Milanovich, that would help get him back there.
Milanovich — a former NFL quarterback, is good friends with Reich, who was at the time the offensive coordinator of the Chargers — recommended Reich’s team give Inman a shot on their roster after he hauled in 100 receptions for 1,542 yards and 11 touchdowns in his two years at the CFL level.
Inman would then sign with the Chargers in February 2014. Over the next three-plus seasons, he would become one of quarterback Philip Rivers’ most trusted targets. In 41 games with the Chargers, Inman caught 107-of-180 targets for 1,463 yards (13.7 avg) and seven touchdowns.
Inman was traded to the Chicago Bears in late October 2017, helping then-rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky acclimate to the NFL. The young signal-caller grew comfortable with Inman, targeting him 40 times over the season's final eight games. Inman would catch 23 balls for 334 yards — a career-high 14.5-yard average — and a touchdown.
Now, with the Colts having a need at Inman’s position and him waiting for an opportunity, his former (and now current) coaches and him can pick up where they left off.
“I was just waiting for the best opportunity for me and family. And here it is, everything works out,” Inman said. “It’s a process, and if you trust the process and believe in who you are and believe in the people surrounding you who support you, good things will happen.”