Jonathan Taylor's Looming Return Provides Plenty For Colts To Ponder

Indianapolis Colts' Zack Moss celebrates a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Indianapolis Colts' Zack Moss celebrates a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor is expected to return to the Indianapolis Colts practice field Wednesday.

How soon he'll start suiting up on Sundays — and how motivated he'll be — remains unclear.

Less than 24 hours after losing to the Rams in overtime, coach Shane Steichen told reporters the 2021 NFL rushing champ was about to be activated from the physically unable to perform list this week while painting a far different picture about Taylor and his relationship with the Colts than the one that emerged last summer.

“He'll be out there with us Wednesday, had a great conversation with him,” Steichen said. “He's super excited to be back with his teammates and we look forward to having him.”

Taylor missed all of the Colts offseason workouts, all of training camp and the first four regular-season games following ankle surgery. This week is the earliest he could be activated from the physically unable to perform list.

If he's healthy, and happy, the Colts offense could look completely different. Zack Moss has played well in his three starts and offers a solid change-up option to the speedy 2021 NFL rushing champ. Indy (2-2) also has dual-threat rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, who now holds the distinction of being the first Super Bowl era quarterback with four TD runs in his first three games.

But does Taylor want to play for the Colts?

Throughout his extended absence, the former Wisconsin Badgers star went public about his desire for a contract extension and his disdain for the undervaluing of NFL running backs. There were spats on social media with Colts owner Jim Irsay and the hour-long meeting on Irsay’s bus while a capacity crowd watched a training camp practice. Within hours of Taylor leaving the bus, word leaked about his trade request and in August, the Colts granted Taylor permission to find a trade partner.

When that didn't work out, Steichen welcomed back the New Jersey prep star with the full knowledge of what Taylor provides — a breakaway threat any time he touches the ball.

It's still possible the Colts could deal Taylor before the Oct. 31 trade deadline.

But, at least from Steichen's perspective, the only real question now is how soon Taylor returns to game day action, possibly even Sunday against division rival Tennessee and two-time league rushing champ Derrick Henry.

“I know it's been a long time since he's played football, so we'll see how practice goes this week, where he's at physically from putting the pads on,” Steichen said.

“He's in a good spot. I had a conversation with him the other day, I talked with him today and he's excited to get back.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Second-half adjustments. Whatever Steichen is doing at halftime seems to be working. The Colts have rallied twice in two weeks to force overtime, winning at Baltimore before losing Sunday. Richardson also has looked more comfortable in the final two quarters in Weeks 1 and 4.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Third down defense. Los Angeles was six of 15 on third downs and converted its only fourth down attempt Sunday. But it felt much more lopsided because the Rams didn't punt until early in the fourth quarter. They also would have scored on seven of their first eight drives if Brett Maher had not missed two field goals. The Colts defense needs to do a better job getting off the field.

STOCK UP

TE Drew Ogletree. Now that he's recovered from a Week 1 concussion, Ogletree is working his way back into Richardson's reads. Ogletree caught three of the four passes thrown his way, finished with a team-best 48 yards and the first TD of his career Sunday.

STOCK DOWN

LB Shaquille Leonard. The three-time All-Pro and 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year played just 45% of Indy's snaps Sunday, the third-lowest single-game rate of his career. Leonard didn't say why he was on the sideline so much or whether he was injured again.

Leonard had just three tackles, giving him 21 in a season he has no takeaways or forced fumbles.

INJURIES

Starting CB Dallis Flowers suffered a torn Achilles tendon and will miss the rest of this season, Steichen said. DE Kwity Paye entered the concussion protocol after showing symptoms following the game where he joins three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly and left tackle Bernhard Raimann. Kelly and Raimann did not play Sunday. Steichen did not mention WR Alec Pierce, who was evaluated for a concussion during the fourth quarter.

KEY NUMBER

Five. Through four regular-season games, the Colts have had five players enter the concussion protocol — Richardson, Kelly, Raimann, Ogletree and Paye.

NEXT STEPS

Richardson and the Colts seem to be ahead of schedule. But to stay there, they'll have to figure out how to best use the Taylor-Moss combination coupled with Richardson's running ability to help open up throws down the field. When that happens, the Colts will be able to take another significant step.

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