INDIANAPOLIS — There's no time like the present.
For the Indianapolis Colts' rookies, that's certainly a saying they've been able to take to heart the last few weeks. With several starters and key backups landing on injured reserve or otherwise unavailable on gameday, it's the youngsters who are being thrown into the fire to show what they can do.
Saturday's game against the Baltimore Ravens was a prime example of several Colts rookies responding to that challenge. The Ravens, one of the hottest teams in the league, desperately needed a win to remain in the playoff hunt, and although Baltimore would escape with a 23-16 victory, many young Colts players were responsible for keeping the final outcome in doubt until the final seconds:• Inside linebacker Anthony Walker:
No play on Saturday might have been bigger than the blocked punt by Walker, who also earned his first-career start at inside linebacker, with 2:45 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Colts needing a late score on the road in rainy conditions to have a shot at tying the game.
"It was textbook of what the film called for us to do," Walker said. "Our special teams coach (Tom McMahon) put that in on Monday and was like, 'This could come open if they give us the same look we were expecting.' They gave it to us, and I was able to make a play for my teammates."
"He (Walker) went through, used great technique, got the block and gave us a chance to tie the game, go to overtime and possibly win it. It was huge," head coach Chuck Pagano explained after the game.
Walker, a fifth-round selection out of Northwestern, was credited with eight tackles, including one for loss, in place of veteran Jon Bostic, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury against the Denver Broncos in Week 15.
"I was there to make a few plays," Walker said. "There are a couple plays I wish I could have back. It's definitely a learning experience. I'm just trying to get better each snap. I felt like I got into a rhythm more into the second half, but I'm just trying to grow as the snaps come."• Outside linebacker Tarell Basham:
Fellow rookie Tarell Basham, a third-round pick out of Ohio University, was the finisher on Walker's blocked punt, recovering the ball at the Baltimore 27-yard line to set up the Colts' final offensive opportunity on the night.
Basham also contributed two tackles and had a couple nice pressures on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, pushing him in and out of the pocket and utilizing his speed to reach past the right tackle and nearly earn a strip sack at one point.
Basham has earned the praise of his coaches after taking a little while to start getting adjusted to the pro game.
"The last two weeks, Tarell Basham has made a quantum leap, not only as a pass rusher but as a run player as well," defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said last Wednesday. "I think that – and I mentioned it to him yesterday – I still think this is a guy that's going to grow into a really fine football player."• Cornerbacks Kenny Moore II, Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston:
All three rookies, each of whom started, again saw significant time on Saturday.
Moore II collected a game-high nine tackles, including one for a loss. He added on pass defensed and forced his first-career fumble on a play in which the Ravens ultimately recovered.
"It was a fight," Moore said after the game as his team dropped another close contest. "We just need to string it together and pull through at the end."
Wilson, according to Pro Football Focus, allowed just two yards on passes thrown his way against the Ravens, while adding three tackles.
Hairston, who has had a solid rookie campaign as the Colts' primary nickel cornerback, was credited with one tackle on the day, but also had a learning experience on the Ravens' eventual game-winning drive, when he was called for two key penalties.
"I played well, but I did get (two penalties)," Hairston said after the game. "I'm not sure what I did, but it is what it is. I'll take a look at it on film."• Running back Marlon Mack:
Mack, again, showed flashes of what he can do with limited touches on Saturday. He showed great burst on four rushing attempts for 17 yards and added two receptions for 37 yards.
Then, on special teams, Mack had a career-long 34-yard kickoff return to help set up the Colts' first offensive possession of the second half, which led to a 48-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri to pull Indy within six points, 16-10.