INDIANAPOLIS – There was no doubt that Oct. 20 afternoon after Julian Blackmon went up for a pass on a routine drill on the final play during the final session of a practice.
Another significant injury.
“Yeah,’’ Blackmon said Wednesday with a knowing shrug. “I just felt like my calf kind of just folded. My whole Achilles was gone.’’
And there was no doubt how he’d react to having his second season with the Indianapolis Colts abruptly end.
There wasn’t a quick, demonstrative obscenity or Woe Is Me! moment.
Blackmon looked skyward and prayed.
“I’m a God-fearing person,’’ he said. “I’ve always tried to stay positive in my life. That’s how I am as a person. You can ask my teammates.
“As soon as it happened I knew I tore it and I looked up and I prayed. I just looked up and (thought) ‘Something must be eating at me that I need to learn’. Just being able to look at in that light was good.’’
Surgery to repair his left Achilles, a trip to the injured reserve list and another exhaustive rehab followed. Blackmon is well-schooled on the routine. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the same knee in the 2019 Pac-12 championship game, an injury that didn’t dissuade the Colts from selecting a potential playmaking safety in the 3rd round of the ’20 draft.
“It’s nice that I have been through it before,’’ Blackmon said of the rehab regimen. “It’s not something you of course want to happen, but because it did happen to me, who better than me to come back from it?
“Take the steps, listen to these guys and getting back on the field, which is our goal.’’
The latest step came Wednesday when Blackmon went through positional drills. He ran, cut, pivoted, back-pedaled.
“I feel good,’’ he said. “My progression’s been good. One day at a time. It’s a blessing to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s been a fun journey, but a lot more work to do.’’
Blackmon is a little more than seven months removed from the injury, and everyone is optimistic he’ll be ready for the start of training camp in late July.
“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that,’’ Frank Reich offered.
Added Blackmon: “Our goal is to be ready for training camp. Our goal is to be ready to go and I feel really good.’’
There’s no reliable timetable for players to make a full recovery from a ruptured Achilles, although nine months is the general range.
However, Cam Akers wrecked that projection last season. The Los Angeles Rams running back tore his Achilles while working out in July, returned to make a token appearance in the final regular-season game, then was the Rams’ leading rusher (67 carries, 172 yards) in their postseason run that led to a win over Cincinnati in Super Bowl LVI.
“There’s no reason to rush,’’ Blackmon said. “That’s the biggest thing. A lot of guys are like, ‘I’ve gotta be back. I’ve gotta be back.’ You see all these guys come back in six months. ‘Aw, that’s amazing.’
“But I don’t need to do that. I have a whole offseason in order to make sure I’m in a good position to not get hurt next year. I don’t need that. I need to make sure I’m doing everything I can off the field to be able to perform on the field.’’
Patience, individually and collectively, will guide Blackmon’s rehab. He’s being eased into drills.
“You’ve just got to be patient,’’ Reich said. “He’s just got to be patient and I think he is. When I see Julian, and I said this to him last week, I just feel like his mindset and even his body is physically at another level than it was when he got here.
“Super excited for him to get fully healthy and become the impact player that we really believe he’ll be.’’
Blackmon made his NFL debut quicker than anyone expected in ’20 – week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings; nine months after the ACL injury – and made an immediate impact. In week 6, he came up with a late interception of Joe Burrow that sealed a 31-27 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. In week 11, he forced a fumble by Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the second play of overtime that set up Rodrigo Blankenship’s 39-yard field goal in a 34-31 win.
By season’s end, he had piled up 42 tackles, including three for a loss, two interceptions, six passes defensed and one forced fumble.
Year 2 was progressing nicely – “I was doing all right,’’ he said with a smile – before the ruptured Achilles. Blackmon started all six games and had 34 tackles, one forced fumble and a pass defensed.
By all appearances, he’s a perfect fit in Gus Bradley’s system: a 6-0, 187 safety/centerfielder.
“Honestly, it’s just whatever they want me to do,’’ Blackmon said. “I wouldn’t say it necessarily changes. They still want me to do what I’m good at.
“You know, ball-hawk, eraser, just making everybody right.’’
Blackmon has the skillset to also play strong safety, which is closer to the box and the role better suited for Khari Willis.
“Probably ultimately better suited for the free, but really I wouldn’t limit him to that,” Reich said. “They’re big-time playmakers in this defense. So, looking forward to him getting back.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.