INDIANAPOLIS – Julian Blackmon announced his presence with authority Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Making his NFL debut, the rookie safety first tackled a leaping Minnesota running back Alexander Mattison on a key third down in the second quarter. One possession later, he victimized Irv Smith Jr. – separating the 6-foot-2, 242-pound tight end from the football at midfield to break up what would have been a big first-down play to jump start a dormant Vikings offense.
Not bad for a player who tore his ACL in December’s Pac-12 Championship Game and still hasn’t participated in a full NFL practice.
“Just from my eye watching the game, he played great,” Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “He made the one play on the Cover 2 down the middle – that looks like that’s gonna be a big play for their offense – and he breaks it up, gets his head and hat on the ball. Those are the instincts that we saw on film. You know that that’s the player that he’s gonna be.”
Blackmon later deflected a pass that was intercepted by fellow safety Khari Willis and finished his first professional game with two tackles and two passes defensed.
It completed a remarkable story for the 22-year-old who wasn’t expected to make an impact for this team until mid-October. It was also very good timing.
The Colts lost safety Malik Hooker to an Achilles injury in the first half, and NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport reported he’s likely to be done for the season.
Blackmon, on the other hand, is just getting started. He spent training camp on the non-football injury list and only began practicing on a limited basis two weeks before the regular-season opener.
But he was determined not to let any rust show in his debut against the Vikings.
“One of the coaches talked to me, and he said, ‘This is your rookie debut, and you’re gonna remember it either way, so you might as well make it great,’” Blackmon said. “And that kind of just stuck with me, and I just wanted to make an impact and try to help my team win.”
He did just that as the Colts rolled to a 28-11 victory against Minnesota.
Now, he’ll likely have a bigger role moving forward.
While Blackmon was sidelined, he couldn’t even participate in Indianapolis’ walk throughs. Reich gave the rookie high marks for mentally preparing in such a way his inexperience wasn’t evident Sunday.
In Blackmon’s mind, it was just a chance to get back on the field and play the game he loves.
“Honestly, I was really ready to just play,” he said. “It’s been such a long time, so I was just thankful that I could be out here on a Sunday with my teammates. And they believe in me, so it helped. It definitely gave me a lot more motivation to get out there and play. So I was really excited. I didn’t really have any second thoughts.”
All-pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was not pleased with his Indianapolis debut last week in Jacksonville. So he did something about it.
The 26-year-old likely will be a constant presence in Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins’ nightmares after recording 1.5 sacks and four quarterback hits Sunday.
The full sack came in the second quarter and resulted in what Buckner believes was the first safety of his career. Defensive end Denico Autry made first contact with Cousins and forced the quarterback up in the pocket. Buckner was there to finish the play with a bear hug that stopped Cousins’ forward progress with 4:54 to play in the half.
Incredibly, it marked the third straight game in which the Vikings have given up a sack for a safety.
“It was a group effort,” Buckner said. “The coverage held up, and Nico had the pressure on him early, and I was right there to clean it up. So it was definitely a group effort.”
In addition to Hooker’s potential season-ending injury, the Colts lost wide receiver Parris Campbell to a knee injury on the second play of the game.
Rapoport reported it’s not believed to be an ACL tear, but Campbell is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday.
Linebacker Matt Adams suffered an ankle injury on special teams, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes left the game with cramps. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin was scratched hours before kickoff and taken to a local hospital for diagnosis of a stomach illness.