INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard said late last week, in an appearance on Sirius XM NFL, said the team hopes 2020 third-round pick Julian Blackmon, the talented safety out of Utah, will be ready to be removed from the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list within the next two to three weeks.
Ballard joined hosts Alex Marvez and Bill Polian, the Hall of Fame former Colts general manager, on their "Training Camp Tour" show on Friday, and gave some insight into where the team is about a week into its camp practices at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
Among the topics discussed was the Colts' 2020 draft class, including Blackmon, who underwent knee surgery in December while at Utah and was placed on the NFI list at the beginning of camp to give him time to keep working his way back to the field.
"Blackmon is getting close — the free safety we took from Utah. And we're not exactly sure, but we're hoping within the next two or three weeks we can get him back off the PUP and ready to go," Ballard said. "He looks great. We're being probably a little more cautious, 'cause I wanna make sure, because he's a very talented centerfielder that we think can really help us when he gets going."
In 46 games at Utah, Blackmon started 39 of them between cornerback, the slot and safety. He totaled 158 tackles (8.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks, nine interceptions, 29 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and had two defensive touchdowns.
He was a Second-Team All-American in his first season at safety in 2019 as well as First-Team All-Pac-12 and a finalist for the Polynesian Player of the Year Award. Prior to that, he was named Second-Team All-Pac-12 as a cornerback in both 2017 and 2018.
Blackmon stands to be a versatile addition to the Colts' secondary, particularly at the safety position, where the team returns both starters in Malik Hooker and Khari Willis, as well as key reserve George Odum. The team also recently added veteran safety Tavon Wilson, who has already made his presence known in camp practices with two interceptions and is also being lauded for his leadership abilities.
Here's what Ballard told Marvez and Polian about how several Colts rookies, including Blackmon, are progressing so far in camp, followed by a couple tidbits on quarterback Philip Rivers and fullback Roosevelt Nix:
On the Colts' 2020 draft class:
"We're very encouraged by the young men that we brought in.
Michael Pittman is everything we thought he would be. He's mature, he works and he's smart. You know, there's an adjustment to playing wideout at our level, just because of the physicality outside of what he's about to face, and then the contested catches that happen in our league. But at this point, we are very pleased with what we've seen.
Jonathan Taylor — I think the accolades he got in college are well-deserved, because he's showing it to us now at this level. I mean, he's a big, strong back with feet and burst, and his hands are better than I think we even anticipated. We had a good feeling off the workout that his hands were good, but they've been better than anticipated. He still needs some work in pass pro (protection) like most young backs do, but we like him.
Blackmon is getting close — the free safety we took from Utah. And we're not exactly sure, but we're hoping within the next two or three weeks we can get him back off the PUP and ready to go. He looks great. We're being probably a little more cautious, 'cause I wanna make sure, because he's a very talented centerfielder that we think can really help us when he gets going.
And, look: we've seen some good things out of Eason. Now, Jacob's not getting the amount of reps because of Philip (Rivers) and Jacoby (Brissett), but we've seen some really good things out of Eason. He's very attentive, he's got really good poise, he's probably a better athlete than you think — probably a little better athlete than I probably gave him credit for. And he's got a great room to learn in.
We're excited about Daniel Pinter, who we took in the fifth round. He's playing in the interior; he got a bunch of snaps at center today, which was really encouraging, because the more you can do, the better it's going to be.
So all of our guys we think are going to be able to help us in some type of role and capacity this year, and we'll see if Pittman and Taylor can be the difference makers that we need them to be."
On what's stood out about Philip Rivers so far:
"I was in the same division for four years, and you always knew what kind of competitor he was. There's great quarterbacks in this league, and I always wondered why Philip wasn't … people talked about him in that, but not quite in the same vein that they did that upper echelon. And I always wondered why, because I know this: every time we lined up against him we were scared to death. And, look: his energy and his passion for football are off the charts. It's fun to watch, and it's real; it's authentic. And I think the players see that. And, look: the one thing I've really noticed here in the first couple weeks that we've been with him — this guy can still throw the football, and he's still accurate. His decision making and ability to … I mean, there's nothing he hasn't seen, and then being able to come in with both Frank (Reich) and Nick (Sirianni), who he's been in the offense with, he's been able to hit the ground running. So that's been really fun to watch, and it's been fun to watch him grow. I mean, look: he's having to do some things differently that he hadn't done in his career before, especially with some nutrition things that we're asking him to do, and he's bought in and I think it's reinvigorated him, also."
On if the Colts' talented offensive line and run game will help take some burden away from Rivers:
"We think so. And we think with our front, our ability to run the ball, the play-action game that Frank and Nick have in the offense, we think it's all gonna help him. And, look: we want to run the ball, no doubt. But we've got to be able to create explosives in the passing game, and we think, along with some of the weapons we've added and with Philip's ability to find those spots in the defense, with a good run game, it's gonna really help him and help us."
On why the Colts decided to add a full-time fullback in Roosevelt Nix:
"Well, we'd all been talking about it — Frank had brought it up, and then when I came from Kansas City, we had (Anthony) Sherman, who's a great player and also played on special teams. I mean, to me that was the key with Rosy is that he's an All-Pro special teams player. So to get four core (special teams units) out of him, and also to give us a … you know, it makes your run game a little bit different, makes you have to defend the run game a little bit different, and we think he's going to add an element offensively that we just haven't had here since Frank's been here."