The Colts, for years, have leaned on linebacker Zaire Franklin as a core special teamer – the kind of guy special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone can trust to play sound, winning football on any of the team's punt/kick return/coverage units.
But when the Colts needed Franklin to step up on defense, as he did Sunday against the Houston Texans, he didn't take a step down on special teams.
So Franklin tied a career high with 87 total snaps played: All 70 of the Colts' snaps on defense at linebacker, and 17 snaps on special teams. Franklin set that high water mark in 2018, when as a rookie he played all 69 of the Colts' defensive snaps and 18 special teams snaps against the New England Patriots.
"He's shown, really, the blueprint for guys to come in and work hard and earn their way," linebacker Bobby Okereke said. "He's a great example."
Back in 2018, Franklin was a seventh-round pick trying to carve out a role on his new team. Now, Franklin's a two-time captain who earned a contract extension in March.
"It's honestly just anything I can do to help the team," Franklin said. "I've had that mentality back before when I was only just a bottom of a roster guy, now I still have that same thought process."
Franklin led the Colts with eight tackles and played a key role in the blitz on which fellow linebacker (and core special teamer) E.J. Speed hit home, causing a forced fumble the Colts turned into a touchdown a few plays later in the fourth quarter against the Texans.
The Colts were able to count on Franklin to play so many snaps because of his talent in both phases, but also because of how hard he practices.
"Every day in practice pushing myself, running to the ball, making sure I'm working on my conditioning," Franklin said. "I know my role on this team's defense and special teams, and I take pride in that. I just make it a point to always push the tempo and put myself in high-stress situations in practice.
"... I know that's just my role. I gotta double dip."
Franklin's special teams snaps broke down with him playing five snaps on kickoff return, four snaps on punt return, four snaps on punt coverage and four snaps on field goal block. He wasn't the only member of the Colts' defense to play a high snap count for Gus Bradley and then flip over and play a role on special teams: Defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart tagged in on field goal block and extra point snaps, while safety Julian Blackmon played on both kick return (six snaps), field goal block (four snaps) and punt coverage (three snaps) in addition to playing all 70 snaps on defense.
The Colts have had annually-strong coverage and return units under Ventrone in the last five seasons. And having guys like Franklin – willing to do whatever he's asked, even if it's play nearly 90 total snaps – is a big reason why.
"All our top guys, we got one of those locker rooms where even our best players are unselfish guys, they do anything they can to help the team," Franklin said. "And I just try to add that as much as I can."
The Colts take on the Houston Texans in the first game of the 2022 season at NRG Stadium.