WESTFIELD, Ind. — In the NFL, the injury bug remains undefeated.
It's the sad nature of the beast; no matter how hard teams hope to avoid it, there will always be players whose seasons end prematurely.
For Indianapolis Colts rookie wide receiver Deon Cain, that bug bit on Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks in his very first preseason game. According to head coach Frank Reich, Cain's injury occurred about midway through the third quarter, likely during a cut while running a route.
Cain had turned heads up to this point in training camp, making several highlight-reel catches and earning occasional reps with what you could consider the first-team offense.
On the team's unofficial preseason depth chart Cain was listed as the fourth receiver, and that typically proved to be the case on the practice field and on Thursday in Seattle.
So what do the Colts do now at receiver behind T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers? For starters, it may not be an individual thing — this coaching staff believes in groupings and using certain players with particular attributes to create mismatches.
Maybe one week it's a big-bodied receiver, and maybe the next it's a player who stretches the defense downfield.
Colts receivers coach Kevin Patullo talked about that very approach with the receiver groups on Sunday.
"Right now, we're just trying to find the best probably four or whatever that number is that we can get out there and see how it goes," Patullo said. "Every day in practice they're all being challenged to play in the slot, then play outside and be moved around to see what the best combination is. But yeah, probably matchups to some extent, but we still have to find the three that work together when we're in 11 personnel, or if we need four out there we need to find the best four for inside and out. That's kind of what we're doing right now is to find the best puzzle pieces to put together."
When you observe the Colts' receiver depth chart in relation to how it unfolds on the practice field, it is, in fact, in groupings. Based on what we've seen in practice recently, this is what we may see behind the first group of Hilton, Grant and Rogers (in order of groupings, not individuals):
K.J. Brent, James Wright and Krishawn Hogan, Kasen Williams, Reece Fountain and Steve Ishmael, Zach Pascal and Seantavius Jones. The team also signed free agent wide receiver Matt Hazel — who spent portions of last season with the Colts' active roster — On Sunday.
Behind Hilton, Grant and Rogers, Patullo said that Brent has stepped up well. However, everything is still very fluid.
"Really, the way it was kinda playing out, they were all being shuffled within practice and games," Patullo said. "So, it's kind of a board of moving pieces right now. Everybody's had their opportunities; it's been good."
Fountain, a rookie fifth-round pick, would be the ideal candidate to separate himself from the pack, but he has just returned from a week-long absence following a knee injury. Wright currently still has a knee issue and is considered week-to-week according to Reich.
Brent and Hogan have performed quite well in practice lately, but with others getting an opportunity to move up, we will see how the competition shakes out.