Message clear: Winning opener is vital for Colts

Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Darius Leonard (53) tosses a football during NFL football practice, Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS –The text came early this week. It was 1:57. In the morning.

The topic: the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday opener against the Seattle Seahawks.

The author: owner Jim Irsay.

The target: linebacker Darius Leonard.

The reason for the early-morning text: the Colts haven’t won a season opener since a 21-17 nod over the Oakland Raiders that ushered in 2013. That’s seven straight opening-day losses.

Listen to Leonard.

“It’s pretty funny, I got a text message about 1:57 in the morning the other day just talking about how important week 1 is and winning the opener,’’ he said Thursday. “Going into year 4, (I) haven’t won game 1 yet and you want to nip that in the bud early.

“Just get started, get it rolling. You just build confidence. You want to win every game, but most importantly you’ve got to win week 1.’’

Leonard was asked who sent him the text. He paused, then smiled.

“The name is Mr. Jim Irsay,’’ he said. “Any time there’s a big game or something, he’s the owner, he wants to make sure you understand the importance of it.

“It’s not his first time texting me or texting any player on the team. Things like that you look for and it just gives you that little extra motivation.’’

Irsay’s focus on snapping that seven-year opening-day drought has been constant, whether it was expressed in a team meeting during the offseason or during training camp in Westfield.

For context regarding his frustration, consider the only players who remain from that last opening day win are tight end Jack Doyle and wideout T.Y. Hilton.

“We haven’t won a home opener since I’ve been here,’’ running back Nyheim Hines said, “and truthfully I don’t think I’ve won one since like 2016.’’

It was Sept. 1, 2016 and Hines’ North Carolina State Wolfpack overwhelmed William & Mary 48-14 in their opener.

Another successful opener is priority 1.

“That’s really the biggest focus,’’ Hines said, “is get out to 1-0.’’

Taking care of business against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks Sunday might represent so much more considering the hurdles the Colts faced during the preseason: the foot surgeries to quarterback Carson Wentz and guard Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly’s hyperextended elbow, neck surgery that will force Hilton to miss at least the first three games, nine players and four staff members – including Reich and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus – missing time for COVID-19-related issues.

“It’s a 1-0 mindset,’’ Reich said, “but listen, we all know the opener is a big deal, especially when it’s a home opener, especially when your owner is letting you know that it’s a big deal.

“So I think we got the message. For sure I would like to deliver some of these here before too long.’’

Leonard pays attention to what’s being said outside the team’s West 56th Street complex. He hears the skepticism, the doubts, the idea the Colts could open 0-5 with a daunting schedule that begins with the Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens.

That group all won at least 10 games last season. Only the Dolphins failed to reach the playoffs.

“For us, we’ve gotta be 1-0,’’ Leonard said. “That’s been our motto for four years now. You see all the things . . . you know, starting 0-5.

“If you win week 1, it gives us confidence going into week 2 and people outside might say the Colts have a good team this year.’’

Since Wilson’s arrival in 2012, Seattle is 5-4 in season openers and 2-4 in openers on the road.

Davenport ready

If Eric Fisher isn’t cleared to be the Colts’ starting left tackle Sunday, Julién Davenport is prepared to step in.

“Definitely confident,’’ he said Thursday. “I’ve played a lot of games in this league and I’m still working to improve my game and myself. So I’ve been doing everything I can to be prepared and ready at any given moment whenever my number is called.’’

The Colts signed Davenport to a one-year, $990,000 free-agent contract.

He was a 2017 fourth-round pick of the Houston Texans who has appeared in 51 games with 28 starts with the Texans and Miami Dolphins. He appeared in all 16 games with Miami last season, but started only one game and was on the field for just 52 offensive snaps.

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