CINCINNATI — "Better late than never," they say.
On Thursday night in the Indianapolis Colts' preseason finale — a 13-6 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals — rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell made his NFL debut for the Colts.
A hamstring injury suffered early in training camp caused Campbell to miss the final 12 practices of camp as well as the first three practices when the Colts returned to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. But the Ohio State product was able to get the clearance to return to the practice field this week, and eventually get the green light to get his first preseason snaps.
On Thursday, the second-round pick played the entire first half and saw 26 snaps throughout five drives, and said he felt like he was able to pick up where he left off after a strong start to camp a few weeks back.
"It was a lot of fun. I felt like myself again," Campbell told reporters after the game. "Being out with the injury obviously was very nagging, very annoying. But I definitely felt like myself again, and it was a lot of fun."
Working almost exclusively from the slot, Campbell was targeted four times in the game, catching three passes and leading the team with 42 yards (14.0 avg).
Campbell did the bulk of his damage on one play in which he lined up in the left slot, ran a shallow slant, caught the ball and then juked and sped his way around the corner for a 31-yard catch and run.
"It was huge. I said earlier, I just kinda felt like myself again. I know the type of player I am, and I know that those are the types of plays I'm used to making," Campbell said. "I take huge pride in my strength of run-after-catch ability, so I just felt like myself."
The distributor of that pass, quarterback Chad Kelly, loved what he saw from the rookie, especially since it helped Kelly run the ball in for a seven-yard touchdown to punctuate the same drive.
"That was awesome," Kelly said of Campbell's catch and run. "For him to make a play like that, he beat the defender and he was running wide open. With his speed, it's hard to stop, especially in the slot."
Campbell nearly put a 35-yard touchdown on the board against the Bengals as well, but the pass was slightly underthrown and was intercepted before Campbell could adjust to it, although head coach Frank Reich believed the speedy rookie had a step on the defender.
Before his injury, Campbell had been building an impressive training camp résumé. In fact, the last day he practiced in camp was his most impressive performance, as his sudden route running left defenders in the dust, and his concentration equaled some highlight-worthy receptions.
Thursday's game was the next box for Campbell to check off, as he still has quite a bit ahead of him before the team opens up the regular season Sept. 8 on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers.
"I think it was great. I really think more than anything it was just great for his confidence. I mean he looked good out there," Reich said of Campbell after Thursday's game. "You could see when he caught that one ball, you could see his speed. Even on the go route that we underthrew, I think he's running away from 'em there if we get that one out in front of him. But it was really good for his confidence to get out there and have a half of football."
Now that Campbell has his first NFL game action out of the way, he can just focus on the task at hand. As he gets more comfortable, he should be even more dangerous to opposing defenses. At least that's what the Colts' elder statesman of the wide receiver room thinks.
"My thing was for him (Campbell) to just go out there and get some game reps in, and he did that," Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said. "He did really well, and I'm looking forward to the future with him."