WESTFIELD, Ind. — "He's got no fear in his game."
"Good showing for him."
"This guy is just a good football player."
"He's got a knack for finding the seam."
To say that Jordan Wilkins has turned some heads in recent weeks would probably be an understatement.
A fifth-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts in April's NFL Draft, the team knew it was getting a productive runner with excellent vision, but sometimes you just need to actually get your hands on a guy before really knowing what you have.
During spring practices, Wilkins looked to be a smooth athlete for sure, but the Colts had a lot of them at the running back position.
But when the team threw on the pads for the very first time for its third practice of training camp, that's when the lightbulb came on.
At 6-foot-1, 216 pounds, Wilkins is no pushover size-wise. But when he's able to run behind his shoulder pads with great physicality — and with no fear — that, matched with his vision, has really left an impression on the Colts' coaching staff as the back heads into his rookie season.
"The thing about Jordan is he's not flashy," Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. "One of the best compliments I think you can ever give as a coach, and I remember my dad used to say when we were growing up, like, 'I don't know how to explain it, but this guy is just a good football player.' I think that's a phenomenal compliment to give somebody. That's how we feel about Jordan — like, I don't know how he's getting this done every time, but he is."
And while Wilkins has looked solid in training camp practices, the Ole Miss product was patiently awaiting his chance to get some actual game reps to really show what he can do.
He got that opportunity on Thursday in the Colts' preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks. His final stat line in that game — six rushing attempts for 21 yards, and one reception for seven yards — won't exactly jump off the stat sheet, but it's the way in which he earned his yardage that had his coaches talking him up once again.
Wilkins entered the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter with Indianapolis leading by just two points, 12-10, but after the Colts saw quarterback Phillip Walker find tight end Darrell Daniels with a 10-yard touchdown pass to go up 19-10, potential disaster struck on the ensuing Indy drive.
A botched quarterback/center exchange by the Colts led to a touchdown by the Seattle defense, cutting the lead to just two, 19-17, once again.
With 3:04 left in the game — Seattle had just one timeout remaining, too — the Colts needed to get just one first down to get to the two-minute warning, where they could officially get in the victory formation.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya opened the Indy drive with a big seven-yard pass to wide receiver Seantavius Jones, and then Wilkins powered ahead for a two-yard gain.
That set up the most important play of the game: 3rd and 1 from the Seattle 47-yard line with 2:21 left. Fail to get a first down, and you're potentially looking at a 4th-and-short scenario with the clock stopped at the two-minute warning; fail to convert that situation, and the Seahawks take over with tremendous field position and a little bit of time to work with.
So on that 3rd and 1, the give was to Wilkins, who showed a quick initial misdirection step to his left before getting the handoff from Kaaya and taking off to the right. He was met about three yards short of the line of scrimmage by safety Delano Hill, but kept chopping his feet, eventually bouncing off Hill and falling forward at the 44-yard line.
Just for good measure, with the game in hand, Wilkins casually signaled "first down." The Colts would go on to win, 19-17.
"That run at the end of the game, to ice the game — that is a big-time run. I mean that's a huge run," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "Yeah, I mean, the offensive line provided a little window, but make no mistake about it, those are the kind of plays that you look for. It doesn't look like much. It is only a couple-yard run, but as we all know, I mean, as you guys all know, those are the kind of runs that win games."
"I think he's got a knack for finding the seam," Colts running backs coach Tom Rathman said of Wilkins. "You know, if you look at this last game, there was two runs in that four-minute drive that sealed the game for us that were very dynamic as far as a runner, finding that seam and getting behind his pads and finishing those runs. Obviously getting the first down, that's optimum in those situations, and he took advantage of his opportunity."
For Wilkins, the play on 3rd and 1 was one of those scenarios you can drill time and time again in practice, but nothing beats being able to actually do it in a game setting.
"We all know the magnitude of the play on 3rd and 1. It's our job as a running back — things might not be blocked up perfectly and you might have a loaded box and things like that, which they did, but we've got to fight for that hard yard," Wilkins said. "And, like I said, if you get it done then we're getting in that victory formation — that's the best formation in football. So you know I wasn't going to let one tackler stop me on that, so I had to get it done."
Wilkins is sure to get many more opportunities moving forward. Part of that has to do with the injury situation at the running back position — the team had just three healthy backs available to practice until signing Branden Oliver on Monday night — but Wilkins has also simply earned the opportunity to get more touches in the Colts' three remaining preseason games.
"It's good," Wilkins said. "You know, its also a lot more work. But like I said, I'm just ready to get more reps. And hopefully those guys heal quickly and get back on the field, because we need them. But in the meantime, I'm going to do at the best ability that I can, and just try to make plays."