Colts face roster debate with injuries to Hilton, Ehlinger

NFL Destination Football

INDIANPOLIS (AP)Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich thought Carson Wentz and T.Y. Hilton were headed toward a big season.

Now it’s unclear if either will play in the Sept. 12 season opener.

While Wentz should return to practice with no limitations this week, a promising sign he could start against Seattle, Reich announced Sunday that Hilton is out indefinitely with a disk injury. The four-time Pro Bowl receiver aggravated it during Wednesday’s final training camp practice.

”He was experiencing some discomfort during the trip to Detroit,” Reich said, referring to Friday night’s preseason finale. ”The doctors looked at it, it is a disk issue. More opinions to come. We’ve got all the right people on it. He will miss some games, we don’t know how many but we’re optimistic it’s not season ending.”

Reich acknowledged Hilton previously complained about pain in his back or neck before the diagnosis.

Hilton has been the undisputed leader of the Colts receiving group since 2013 when he posted the first of four straight 1,000-yard seasons. He topped the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in 2018, but has battled injuries the past two seasons.

The 31-year-old Hilton posted a league and career-high 1,448 yards in 2016 and ranks third in franchise history in career yards (9,360). He’s also fourth in career receptions (931) and is tied for fourth in touchdown catches (50).

Hilton also turned down more money from Baltimore in free agency last winter to stay with Indy on a one-year, $8 million deal.

”Obviously, we know as a receiving group with our No. 1 guy being out, we all have to step up,” Parris Campbell said. ”So we’ll all just approach it the same. I knew I needed to step it up this season and I know what I bring to this team.”

The Colts are starting this season with more receiver depth than they’ve had recently.

Michael Pittman Jr., Indy’s top draft pick in 2020, appears poised for a breakout season. Campbell missed most of the past two seasons with injuries but finished camp healthy.

Veteran Zach Pascal has been consistently reliable despite working with new quarterbacks each of the past three seasons and late-round draft pick Michael Strachan emerged as a potential playmaker at camp, too.

Hilton’s injury wasn’t the only bad break for Indy.

Veteran Sam Tevi, who was competing with Julie’n Davenport for the starting job at left tackle, will miss the entire season with a torn ACL in his right knee.

And rookie quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who left the Lions game in the first half, will miss five to six weeks with a sprained left knee. Reich was relieved it wasn’t the season-ending injury he initially feared.

”Very happy about that,” Reich said.

There were more promising updates on Wentz and three-time All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson.

Four weeks after both had foot surgery to remove bone fragments, they re expected to be full-go at practice. The plan is to use them in team drills during Monday’s light workout, Tuesday’s walkthrough, Wednesday’s practice in full pads and a shorter padded practice Thursday.

Nelson also is expected to come off the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday, four days after being deemed a close contact to two-time Pro Bowl tackle Eric Fisher who tested positive for the illness.

”I’m expecting he’ll push it this week and then we’ll see how it responds,” Reich said when asked about Nelson. ”I expect if he can handle that, then he’ll go. Part of the litmus test is they need to be ready to go on Wednesday, like the game is Wednesday. So they’re going to have prove they can bounce back from a good day’s work and then follow it up with another.”

All of the uncertainty comes in the waning hours before Tuesday’s league deadline to cut active rosters to 53. And the injuries could cause prolonged debate about how to make those final decisions.

”We feel really good about this roster,” Reich said. ”But, first and foremost, we want to get the right diagnosis and the process to get him (Hilton) back. He’s not only a great player, he’s a great leader. I was just saying to Chris that T.Y. was looking as good at this camp as I’ve ever seen him and even in the short time he and Carson worked together, I could see immediate chemistry. Carson felt that, too.”

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