INDIANAPOLIS — Kemoko Turay has waited a long time for a game like the one he enjoyed Sunday afternoon.
Almost exactly two years, in fact.
The Indianapolis Colts defensive end appeared to be nearing a breakthrough when he badly fractured his ankle on Oct. 6, 2019, during a win at the Kansas City Chiefs. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the rehabilitation process the following spring, and Turay ultimately had to go back in for a second surgery.
He was never healthy during a 2020 season that saw him play on just 9% of the team’s defensive snaps over seven games and record just a single sack. Last week against the Dolphins, the 26-year-old made up his mind he didn’t want to allow another season to slip away.
With rookie Kwity Paye sidelined by a hamstring injury, Turay played a season-high 46% of the time and finally gave the team some production from the edge with two sacks against former teammate Jacoby Brissett.
“Yeah, I felt good,” Turay said in the immediate aftermath. “I felt good (Sunday). (I’m) doing everything I’ve got to do, staying in the training room and getting up early, just constantly working in the weight room. Staying around the coaches and watching the game and studying my film and just focusing. That’s the main part, focus.”
A perennial breakout candidate, Turay felt so badly about the Colts’ 0-3 start he encouraged captain DeForest Buckner to call a players-only meeting. The focus was on personal accountability, and for Turay that meant finding a way to help the defense by getting pressure from the outside.
Turay was drafted in the second round out of Rutgers in 2018 because of his high-end potential. He’s a quick-twitch athlete with measurable explosion that simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy as a pro.
The game against Miami provided a peak at a skillset that could help the Indianapolis defense turn a much-needed corner.
“He’s got all the potential to be a great rusher in this league,” Buckner said. “He just has to continue to build off of that, and it’ll open things up for a bunch of guys amongst the line. Having that constant pressure off the edge will help guys step up in the middle, will help me out a little, too. And also the back end in coverage. We don’t want those guys covering too long.
“The guys in the back end can only cover for so long, and giving us that extra tick means a lot. We gotta get home, gotta get home, and for Turay to get two sacks last week, it’s something to build off of.”
The key for Turay remains consistency.
There have been flashes in the past — including a career-high four sacks as a rookie — but he’s never been able to be a factor week after week. With Paye still adjusting to the pro game and last year’s starters — Justin Houston and Denico Autry — playing elsewhere, the time is now for Turay to deliver on his immense promise.
“He’s looking healthy, and he did a nice job of his get-off and his approach and really threw his fastball in there,” Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. “I think that he’s growing in confidence as he gets going there, and it’s important obviously for the whole football team that we get that rush going on the outside with a four-man rush. We’re certainly excited about where he is and where he was last week and going forward, just continue to grow off of that.”
THEY SAID IT
“I say that it’s something you have or you don’t have. Like I’ve been doing punt return my whole life. I haven’t seen many guys just randomly start and continue it. It takes a special person to look up in the air and have a load of people trying to rip your head off. There’s people close to you. Sometimes I’ll catch the ball with people close to me. I think it’s a skill that you attribute firstly as a kid, and I think it’s something you always have.” — running back Nyheim Hines on the mentality needed to be a return man in the NFL
Hines (shoulder), linebacker Darius Leonard (ankle), Paye (hamstring) and right tackle Braden Smith (foot/thumb) did not practice Thursday. Hines said the shoulder did not affect him during the win at Miami, and Leonard has been regularly resting for one practice each week.
Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich is hopeful Smith will be able to practice before the end of the week, and he’s also optimistic Paye could return soon.
Safety Khari Willis (ankle/groin) and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin returned on a limited basis after missing the Dolphins game, and quarterback Carson Wentz (ankles) was a full participant for the first time in two weeks.
“I definitely feel much better,” Wentz said. “I came out of the game thankfully unscathed. Felt good the next morning and the extra rest here early in the week has definitely helped as well. Hopefully, we’re not talking about it too much longer, and they’re in a pretty good place.”