Frank Reich on Colts running back Jonathan Taylor: ‘That guy right now looks so good’

Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor runs a drill during practice at the NFL team’s football training camp in Westfield, Ind., Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

WESTFIELD – There were a couple of snapshots that captured the essence of Jonathan Taylor.

On the first play of an early “team’’ session in Friday’s joint work with the Carolina Panthers at Grand Park Sports Campus, the Indianapolis Colts’ feature running back found himself in the thick of a sideline skirmish that branched off into two scrums. At one point, a Panther was on top of Taylor, delivering forceful elbows into the back of his head.

Two plays later, Taylor took a handoff from Sam Ehlinger, squirted through the right side of the line, reached the Panthers’ secondary, lowered his shoulder and plowed into safety Sam Franklin.

The sequence brought a smile to Frank Reich’s face.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence and trust in JT,’’ he said. “The guy’s a pro’s pro. Even when it got a little chippy out here today, he’s unfazed by it. He’s got that next-play mentality.”

“That guy right now looks go good. I’m just excited where he’s headed and how he’s going to lead this football team.’’

Taylor endured a slow start as a rookie but finished as one the NFL’s most prolific backs. The second-round draft pick had 741 yards on 119 carries in his last six games – that’s 6.2 yards per attempt – and finished 3rd in the league with 1,169 yards, the third-highest total by a Colts’ rookie behind Hall of Famers Edgerinn James (1,553) and Marshall Faulk (1,282).

While Taylor is in the midst of a solid training camp, he was guilty of letting up on one play Friday. He gathered in a dump-off from Ehlinger and headed upfield for a sizeable gain only to have a Panther close from behind and jab the football out of his grip.

“Maybe he thought the play was over since we’re not taking running backs to the ground,’’ Reich said. “It was a nice play and he just let up.’’

Rhule: Here for a reason

Carolina coach Matt Rhule was quick to point out the level of competition his Panthers faced Thursday and Friday.

He spent most of his time supervising his offense, which went against a Colts’ defense that ranked 8th in the league a year ago.

“Offensively it was much better, much better energy,’’ Rhule said, comparing Friday to the previous day. “And that’s why we came here.

“I told a couple of the Colts players I respect them. They were 11-5 last year. That’s why we came to practice them. I didn’t come to practice against somebody I don’t respect. We wanted to come here.’’

Pederson on hand

There was a Philly reunion at Grand Park as former Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson spent the last two days visiting with Reich. On occasion, Pederson, Reich and Carson Wentz shared time during practice.

“Good to rub shoulders with him again,’’ said Reich, who served as Pederson’s offensive coordinator in 2016-17. “Always good picking his brain, spending time with him.

“It was great. (We’ve) kept in touch. I think the world of him.’’

Friday morning, Reich and Pederson took a walk on the nearby Monon Trail.

“Just kinda reminisced a little bit about that fun year we had together,’’ Reich said of the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl season. “Gave me a chance to thank him. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for coach Pederson.

“He’s a phenomenal coach and even a better person.’’

Eason gets the start Sunday

Jacob Eason and Ehlinger continued to split reps with the starting offensive Friday, and Eason will get the start in Sunday’s preseason opener against the Panthers. Reich hasn’t finalized how much Eason will play, but it’s likely he’ll play in the second quarter before yielding to Ehlinger.

In the Aug. 21 preseason game at Minnesota, Ehlinger gets the start.

Reich isn’t demanding hero football from either of his young quarterbacks.

“Move the sticks, make the plays in situational football we need to make to extend the drive, finish the drive,’’ he said. “And then make good decisions.

“We think we have a good football team, so if one of those guys is our starting quarterback in week 1, they don’t have to be a superstar. We want to see them go out and play good football, trust in their teammates, trust the running game, make the plays in the play-action game and then on third down and red zone you’ve got to be right.’’

Not much from starters

No one should show up at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday expecting to see many of the Colts’ front-line players.

Injuries will keep a slew of starters out: quarterback Carson Wentz, left guard Quenton Nelson, center Ryan Kelly, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, rookie defensive end Kwity Paye, running back Nyheim Hines, tight end Mo Alie-Cox.

Reich also indicated he’ll hold out “a fair amount’’ of other starters.

“We’re still talking about exactly who,’’ he said. “That’s one of the advantages of having this scrimmage for two days, getting a lot of work.’’

While a majority of front-line players won’t play Sunday, they will at some point during the preseason.

“I do want the guys to play,’’ Reich said. “More than likely guys playing the second game for sure, probably the third game as well.’’

Blackmon returns

Julian Blackmon was back on the field after missing a few days with a knee issue. Apparently, the brief time off was more preventative than the second-year safety aggravating the knee injury that required surgery at the end of his college career at Utah.

“I wanted to get into practice,’’ Blackmon said. “It’s my love of the game, man.

“I also know I’ve got to take care of my body in order to play the game. Coach did a good job of making sure I took the precautions, so I’ll be ready.’’

TDs in red zone

Eason and Ehlinger finished strong in closing red-zone drills.

On the first series, Eason had T.Y. Hilton positioned in a bunch formation to the right. Hilton worked his way across the field and gathered in a touchdown from Eason.

On the next play, Eason delivered a low, hard pass that Michael Pittman Jr. juggled, but was able to secure as he was on the ground.

Ehlinger’s first pass in the red-zone work was a touchdown to tight end Farrod Green.

T.Y. in mid-season form

Hilton appeared in mid-season form during 11-on-11 work, and that transcended making tough catches.

After gathering in a pass from Eason while sliding out of bounds, Hilton looked to the sidelines, approached where the media was standing and offered some trash talk.

“That’s all they got?’’ he barked about the Panthers’ coverage. “They’re doublin’ me. That’s all they got?’’

Perfection in kicking

Incumbent Rodrigo Blankenship and challenger Eddy Pineiro are taking their kicking competition to the extremes. Each is 15-for-15 during training camp.

Friday, Blankenship and Pineiro converted 33-, 40-, 47- and 53-yard field goals. Then during two-minute work, Blankenship knocked down a 43-yard field goal and Pineiro a 45-yarder.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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