INDIANAPOLIS – Nick Sirianni had a visceral reaction to meeting rookie running back Jonathan Taylor in person for the first time last week.
“I look at him and say, ‘I would hate to have to tackle this guy all game long,’” the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator said. “Now, I don’t get paid to do that, but I can see that other people are going to think that way – a defensive coordinator saying, ‘Man, our guys are going to wear down from tackling him because that’s a big man right there.’”
That’s one of many reasons the Colts believe they might have gotten a steal with the prolific former Wisconsin rusher in the second round.
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 226 pounds on the team’s official website, Taylor ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine in February. That was the second-fastest time among all running backs at the event and compares favorably to New York Giants star Saquon Barkley – whose freakish Combine performance at 5-11 and 233 pounds included a 4.40-second 40-yard dash before becoming the second overall pick in 2018.
Indianapolis speedster Nyheim Hines – who returned two punts for touchdowns last year against the Carolina Panthers and spent part of his college career as a wide receiver – was the only running back faster than Barkley at that year’s Combine with a 40 time of 4.38.
Taylor translated that raw speed to historic production at Wisconsin. He ranks sixth in major college football history with 6,174 career rushing yards and is the only player to top the 6,000-yard mark in just three seasons. He would have needed 952 yards as a senior to break fellow Badgers star Ron Dayne’s national record.
Instead, Taylor will take a crash course in NFL play throughout August, attempting to ramp up for his regular-season debut without the benefit of preseason games and with fewer training camp practices due to restrictions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
“You are only as strong as your weakest link,” Taylor said near the end of the Colts’ virtual offseason work in June. “So (I’m) coming in as a rookie and trying to make sure that I’m trying to push my limits to new heights to equal the NFL level just because I know that it takes a room.”
That room should also provide support during Taylor’s development.
He’s already been in consistent contact with teammates like Marlon Mack, Hines and Jordan Wilkins, and Sirianni considers Tom Rathman to be the best running backs coach in the league.
They’ll help point the rookie in the right direction, and his own character and drive should provide a solid base for success.
“Obviously, there is a lot to learn,” Sirianni said. “He is going to be protecting (quarterback) Philip (Rivers). That’s not only to learn for himself but also for his teammates, and the type of person I am starting to see that Jonathan is through the draft process and through this last week in person and through the offseason program (when) we got to interact with him – he’s all in.
“He’s going to work his butt off to live up to expectations.”
Indianapolis announced Sunday veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton will start training camp on the non-football injured list. The 30-year-old wide receiver reportedly suffered a hamstring injury during personal offseason workouts this summer and is not expected to have a lengthy absence.
Hilton missed six games last year with a variety of ailments and two games in 2018 with an ankle injury, but he’s been out for just 10 games total since being drafted in 2012.
He struggled on the field last season with 45 catches for 501 yards and five touchdowns. His 11.1-yard average reception and 50.1-yard per-game average were the lowest numbers of his career.
But he caught a career-high 66.2% of his targets in 2019 and has high hopes for a bounce-back season with Rivers.
“I think Philip brings a lot of experience – a future Hall of Famer, knows the offense really well,” Hilton said in June. “He used it in San Diego. We have some (similar) stuff we use here. So I feel like we can always get better, but Phil is a guy I see taking us to the next level.”
The Colts made several moves Sunday to get down to the 80-man roster limit for training camp.
Indianapolis waived wide receiver Rodney Adams, defensive end Jegs Jegede, offensive tackle Cedrick Lang, cornerback Picasso Nelson Jr., offensive tackle Travis Vornkahl and linebacker Brandon Wellington. Running back Darius Jackson was released.