While the usual suspects like defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and cornerback Kenny Moore II were making significant plays for the Colts defense last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, there were other players out there making a bigger impact than usual.
Along the defensive line, guys like defensive end Isaiah Land and defensive tackles Adetomiwa Adebawore and Eric Johnson II each set new season-highs in defensive snaps and made the most of them. Adebawore and Johnson notched the first sacks of their young careers and Land had a key quarterback hurry in the fourth quarter that led to an interception by linebacker Segun Olubi.
"With Grove [Stewart] being down, being a backup in this league I gotta be ready to step up and ready to play," Johnson said. "So, being able to go out there and finally get my first sack not only shows to me that I'm getting better and progressing, but I'm also fulfilling that spot on the team where they're like, 'Hey, you gotta be able to come in and make plays."
"On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley discussed the trio's increased snaps and said it was a product of the work they put in out on the practice field."
"First of all – we've said that we try to give guys roles on this unit. If they do well in practice and they're showing us, we want to get them in the game. I think it's overall really good for morale, really good for morale of the unit. It does take some give and take. There's guys that want to be in there the whole game. To keep guys fresh and keep developing players – if they do well, we want to give them a role," Bradley said. "I think that's what you see with Eric Johnson – he's getting a bigger role. Tomi, he's getting some opportunities as well as a guy like Zay Land. If they continue to show that – there's that nugget out there that if you do well in practice, we're going to find a way to get you on the field and see what you can bring. That's the biggest message I think of all. As well as that, I think guys are playing and pulling for each other because of it."
Land can attest to the way that a good week of practice can pay off on Sundays. After being inactive seven of the team's first eight games, he found out he was going to play against the Panthers.
"I just felt like I had a really good week and before the game, coach Gus told me I had worked really hard for this moment, being able to dress up and stuff," Land said. "So, I just wanted to put my best foot forward when I got the opportunity."
One man who has seen firsthand the improvement Land, Johnson II and Adebawore have been making is defensive line coach Nate Ollie.
Well aware of the frustrations that can come when a player isn't seeing the field as much as they would have hoped, Ollie said his message to his group is to make the most of their opportunities.
"Basically, the main thing we say is, don't count the reps, make the reps count," Ollie said. "So, you go in there and you get five and it's a great five reps? The next game you might get 10. You get 10 and it's a great 10 reps, you might get 15."
In the case of Olubi, he was put into the starting lineup for the first time in his career after a knee injury led MIKE linebacker Zaire Franklin to miss a game due to injury for the first time in his career.
In preparation for the pivotal moment, Olubi said he picked his teammates and coaches' brains to make sure that he was at his best on Sunday.
"Asking a lot of questions, sometimes too many," Olubi said. "Not necessarily too many, but I know some guys are like, 'Hey man, cool out [with the questions].' I've definitely got some of that, but it's like I just try to overprepare, over ask questions, if I don't know something I'm gonna say something just because they tell you to prepare like a starter, but if you've never been a starter, you don't necessarily know how to prepare like one. So, that was one of the questions that I asked, one of the things I watched Zaire for, asked my coaches about. Just asking, how do you prepare like you're gonna play on Sunday? That's really helped me as we keep going forward."
Thursday practice update and practice report
After conducting a walkthrough on Wednesday, the team returned to full practice on Thursday.
This evening, the team will be making their way to Germany to prepare for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots.
Thursday's practice report: