INDIANAPOLIS – Alec Pierce embarked on his second season as one of the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive focal points, but wound up as a statistical afterthought.
He finished with one catch for 5 yards on just three targets in Sunday’s opening 31-21 loss to Jacksonville. That, despite being on the field for 92% of the offensive snaps.
That isn’t the type of impact the Colts want – need – from their 2022 second-round draft pick, and it came on the heels of a quiet preseason (zero receptions on six targets).
“The ball just didn’t come his way,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “It happens sometimes at the receiver position; shoot, at any of the skill positions. We’d like to get all our guys involved, Alec being one of those especially.’’
And this from Shane Steichen: “I thought he was all right and I can do a better job of getting him the football a little more.’’
At 6-3, 211 pounds and with 4.41 speed, Pierce is the top deep threat in the receivers position room. But situations conspired against him in the opener.
That phase of the passing game was largely lacking as the Colts never were able to establish their Jonathan Taylor-less ground game – backs rushed 16 times for 25 yards – which allowed the Jaguars to sit in zone coverage most of the afternoon. Deep safeties were deterrents for rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson to take many shots.
Also, Steichen and Cooter weren’t overly aggressive in their play-calling in Richardson’s NFL debut. He had three completions of at least 20 yards, but the longest – a 39-yard touchdown to Michael Pittman Jr. – was a catch-and-run with a bubble screen.
Richardson averaged a modest 6.0 yards per attempt – 7.5 would be much more like it – and just 9.3 yards per completion.
Occasionally, Richardson’s protection sprung a leak.
“Just trusting the line and sitting in the pocket because I know he’s a deep threat,’’ Richardson said. “So, I’ve just got to stay in the pocket and trust him to get open and trust the line to protect me so I can deliver the ball downfield for him.
We had some plans to take some shots. The one play we did have a shot, the protection wasn’t there and we just tried to make a play; scrambled around a little bit. But hopefully, we can stand in the pocket a little bit more stronger, a little bit more firm and take shots down the field.’’
Colts’ ball-catchers averaged just 9.7 yards last season, the worst in franchise history. Pierce was the aberration (14.5 yards per catch).
His slow start this season mirrors how his rookie season began but for entirely different reasons. Pierce suffered a concussion in the opening tie at Houston that would force him to miss week 2.
There’s no panic inside the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
And that’s especially true with the individual entrusted with overseeing the receiver’s room.
“No, I’m not concerned,’’ insisted second-year position coach Reggie Wayne. “He’s confident in his ability. He knows what he’s got to do. He’s not listening to what y’all are saying, so that’s always a plus.’’
Pierce asserting himself in the offense, he added, “will come. Just gotta be patient. We’re still trying to get rollin’ as an offense, period. His time will come. It’s just whenever they do come, he’s gotta make sure he seizes the moments and catch the ball and protect it and do all that.’’
Pierce compiled a solid rookie season with 41 receptions, 593 yards and two TDs.
That dwarfed Wayne’s first NFL season. The Colts’ 2001 first-round draft pick debuted with 27 catches, 345 yards and no TDs as he dealt with an early high ankle sprain and was in a receivers’ mix that complemented Marvin Harrison.
When did things start clicking for Wayne to the point he felt he was a big part of the Peyton Manning-led offense?
“As much as I think I was ready in year 2, I didn’t really get going until year 3,’’ he said.
Wayne compiled 49 receptions for 716 yards and four TDs in 2002 and did so while being miffed the Colts signed free agent Qadry Ismail to work alongside Harrison in the starting lineup.
“Now that was a slap in the face,’’ he said. “I just felt like I was better; not saying his game wasn’t (OK). I just felt like it was my time.’’
That was the case in year three: 68 receptions, 838 yards, seven TDs. Wayne breached the 1,000 mark in 2004, the first of seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
“For me, it took a year-and-a-half, two years, maybe three,’’ he said. “Obviously coach (Tony) Dungy and them didn’t think I was ready until year 3. Just gotta wait your turn.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.