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Practice Notebook: 'Next man up' buy-in fueling Colts' playoff push

Every team has a next man up mentality, but few teams have bought into it more than the 2023 Colts. 


"Next man up" is a reflexive mentality all football players have to possess. The games will be played no matter who's available.

For the Colts this year, that's meant playing several games without their starting quarterback (Anthony Richardson), star running back (Jonathan Taylor), multiple starting offensive linemen (Bernhard Raimann, Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith), their run-stuffing defensive tackle (Grover Stewart) and two starting cornerbacks (Dallis Flowers, JuJu Brents), among others. Team captain and starting linebacker Shaquille Leonard was waived last week, too.

Every team has a "next man up" mentality. Few teams embody it more than the 2023 Colts, who despite missing those players at times this season are 6-5 and very much in contention for a playoff spot.

"I think this year specifically, we've taken all that with grace," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "I credit Shane (Steichen) with that too, just keeping everything about ball. Even when we were going through stuff with JT, going through losing Grover, going through Shaq and all that stuff, just keeping our focus on ball, keeping the main thing the main thing and that's why we're able to continue to succeed through all it."

Franklin's comments echo something general manager Chris Ballard said in an interview on the Official Colts Podcast during the bye week. 

"Here's the thing I really enjoy about Shane – it doesn't faze him," Ballard said. "You never hear 'woe is me.' It's like, 'alright, who we got up? Let's find a way to make it work.' And that's really encouraging."

The Colts this week learned Taylor will miss time with a thumb injury that required surgery, meaning Moss – again – will be counted on in a "next man up" role. But it's not just Moss' early-season production that's led to the Colts feeling confident their run game won't drop off in the middle of a playoff run – how Moss went about his business, whether as a starter or reserve, has fueled trust in the fourth-year running back.

"His preparation is always the same," running backs coach DeAndre Smith said. "... He's always taking notes, he's always ready to go at any given time. ... He's a great example of what a professional is supposed to be like. Whenever your number's called, you gotta be ready."

It's not just Moss setting a good example – the Colts are 6-3 when Gardner Minshew either starts or plays the majority of snaps behind center. Without Stewart, the Colts are still 3-2 – and while their run defense has slipped (4.8 yards/carryfoll allowed, 28th in NFL since Week 7), they've generated 10 takeaways in those five games (T-5th) and 22 sacks (fourth).

(Week 13 is the final game of Stewart's suspension.)

While those starting linemen have been out, rookie Blake Freeland and second-year former undrafted free agent Wesley French have held their own. Safety-turned-linebacker Ronnie Harrison Jr. picked off Baker Mayfield only a few days after he took Leonard's place on the 53-man roster. And 2023 seventh-round pick Jaylon Jones, who stepped in after Flowers sustained a season-ending Achilles' injury in Week 4, has been a bright spot on defense:

So as the Colts prepare to face the Titans without Taylor – and several other players – they'll do so deeply buying in to the sort of mindset December contenders need to have. 

"Adversity happens every day. It happens to me, it happens to you," Moss said. "Adversity is life. We got a lot of guys on this team who's battle tested and gone through adversity, from growing up to injuries or whatever it may be. And guys just know how to step up and play their role at a high level."

Thursday's practice report:

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