INDIANAPOLIS — Thursday will mark something of a homecoming for Parris Campbell.
The former Ohio State star is returning to his home state for the first time as a pro when the Indianapolis Colts visit the Cincinnati Bengals in the year’s final preseason game.
But sentimentality won’t be part of the trip.
After missing three weeks of training camp with a lingering hamstring strain, this will be Campbell’s welcome to the NFL moment.
“I missed basically all of camp,” Campbell said Tuesday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. “Being a first-year player in the NFL, you know game speed’s a little different. So you definitely need the reps. So I’m excited to get back those reps that I can this Thursday.”
Campbell isn’t expected to play long, but his performance will be one of the biggest storylines from a game in which the starters again will not play.
The Colts enter the contest 0-3 in exhibition games, but that holds no importance.
The battles for the final few roster spots on a team still deep in talent even after the shocking retirement of Andrew Luck will take center stage.
Campbell’s debut is the most interesting note.
One of three second-round picks for Indianapolis this spring, the 6-foot receiver was having his best day of training camp when he was injured on July 28.
He showed rare separation in the end zone in a one-on-one rep then made a one-handed catch for a touchdown later in team drills.
Head coach Frank Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and wide receivers coach Kevin Patullo were raving about his potential.
Then Campbell pulled his hamstring and watched most of the rest of the preseason from the sideline.
“I felt like I was kind of in the groove at that point,” he said. “I was in the play book, knowing everything. I felt like I was in the groove. So it was kind of disappointing to have that setback. But I’ve been engaged and locked in even though I wasn’t there physically on the field. I’ve been mentally engaged.”
Now, all that’s left is to test the hamstring’s durability heading into the Sept. 8 regular-season opener at the Los Angeles Chargers.
All reports out of his two practices this week were good, and the team released a clip showing Campbell make a catch over the middle after gaining great separation from the defense, and then turn up field for an apparent score.
With every starter and most contributors sitting out the game against the Bengals, there was some internal debate over Campbell’s status.
But the Colts ultimately determined the opportunity to get live reps was the most important factor.
“He is a rookie,” Reich said. “He needs to play, get a feel because he’s been out for a little bit. The flip side of that is he’s played a lot of football. He’s a smart guy. He stayed in it. So I think this is more a question about when we feel he’s physically ready to go.”
Indianapolis will watch how Campbell’s hamstring responds after the game before making a determination on his availability against the Chargers.
From his own perspective, it’s all systems go.
“I feel fine,” Campbell said. “I feel back to my old self. I was kind of down in the dumps during that time (on the sideline), but I’m back happy. Energy’s there so I feel good.”
General manager Chris Ballard continued making moves Wednesday ahead of this weekend’s roster cut down, trading third-year cornerback Nate Hairston to the New York Jets for a 2020 sixth-round pick.
The Colts drafted Hairston in the fifth round in 2017, and he made an instant impact as a slot defender as a rookie. Last season was more uneven, but Hairston rebounded with a strong spring and summer of practices.
He’s the latest victim of the increased depth on the roster. With Kenny Moore, Pierre Desir, Rock Ya-Sin and Quincy Wilson installed as locks to make the 53-man cut, the battle for the final roster spot (or two) likely will come down to rookie Marvell Tell and special-teams ace Chris Milton.