INDIANAPOLIS – Michael Pittman Jr. moved into Parris Campbell’s old rental home and looks at the Indianapolis Colts wide receiver as a kind of big brother.
Campbell was one of the first players Pittman connected with after being drafted in the second round in April, and the rookie was hit hard by the veteran’s knee injury during Sunday’s win against the Minnesota Vikings.
“Man, it really sucks to just see that happen to somebody that works so hard,” Pittman said during a Zoom call Tuesday.
Replacing Campbell won’t be an easy job.
Zach Pascal is likely to get the designation on the depth chart, but multiple players will line up in the slot depending on the matchups and the specific play call. Even running back Nyheim Hines could see snaps as the slot receiver in the right situations.
But it was Pittman whose role expanded most after Campbell was injured on the second snap against Minnesota. He played on 92% of the team’s offensive snaps after appearing on 53% of the snaps in the opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It’s a sign of the growing confidence the coaching staff has in the 22-year-old out of Southern California.
“I was really happy with the plays Michael Pittman made,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said Sunday. “Not just the couple key plays that he made but just how he made them – some things that we talked about and some things that he’s been working on that just really showed up today. I just think the arrow is really up for him and all our young guys.”
There was good and bad on display Sunday.
Pittman made a tough third-down catch to keep the opening drive alive and later made a one-handed grab off a tipped ball by Vikings safety Harrison Smith on Indianapolis’ first touchdown drive.
But there also was a miscommunication with quarterback Philip Rivers and a pair of illegal block penalties that helped stall promising drives.
It’s a natural learning curve for a rookie, and it’s all the steeper because of the unique challenges of 2020. The last few months have been a whirlwind for Pittman, who has moved across the country, learned an entirely new offense and tried to adjust to the professional level without the benefit of preseason games.
He’s attacked it the only way he knows how, through relentless hard work.
“He really shows a passion for the game of football,” Indianapolis offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “This guy plays hard. He really does. I know our offense as a whole plays hard, but you can just see this guy pouring everything into every play, and I love that about him.
“He plays hard — whether that’s running a route, whether that’s blocking, whether that’s running off (defenders). I love that intensity about him. He practices that way, too, so I just believe that he’s just going to continue to get better and better.”
Pittman has a unique perspective.
His father played 11 years in the NFL as a running back and had high praise for teammates like Keyshawn Johnson who took pride as wide receivers blocking in the running game. Pittman wants Colts rushers like Jonathan Taylor to talk about him the same way some day.
He’s also patient.
Through two weeks, he’s got six catches for 47 yards and is still waiting for his first career touchdown. Pittman believes the extra work he’s putting in now — studying the playbook and staying after practice for extra reps — will pay dividends as the season rolls on.
He played Sunday despite fighting through a toe injury that kept him out of the week’s final practice, and he chalked it up as part of the job description.
“My biggest thing is just helping us win, and me not playing isn’t really helping us win,” Pittman said. “So anything I can do to help, I’m just gonna be there, and I’m just gonna do my very best job.”
It was a busy Tuesday for Indianapolis after a wave of injuries Sunday.
The Colts placed Campbell and safety Malik Hooker (Achilles) on injured reserve. Campbell is out indefinitely, while Hooker’s season — and perhaps his Colts career — is over.
Indianapolis also elevated safety Ibraheim Campbell and cornerback Tremon Smith to the active roster and signed tight ends Hale Hentges and Ethan Wolf to the practice squad.
Tight end Charlie Taumoepeau was released from the practice squad.