INDIANAPOLIS – Honestly, the best play in the Colts offensive playbook right now is throwing the ball downfield in the direction of Alec Pierce.
And while that might sound like a shot at the rest of the Colts offense, which has certainly struggled, it’s also a major credit to what the rookie has proven he’s capable of on Sunday’s.
Earning a quarterback’s trust as a rookie is not a foregone conclusion.
Pierce had a really nice training camp individually, but he didn’t see much starting action with Matt Ryan (Pierce caught 6 of Ryan’s 127 completions in training camp, good for 7th most on the Colts roster).
The rookie dropped a big touchdown in his first NFL game, and then a concussion in that same contest knocked him out for the rest of that game, and also sidelined him in Week Two against the Jaguars.
It was not an ideal start for the second-round pick.
But Ryan has always expressed a public level of belief in the rookie.
And we’ve seen that play out in the past month.
Since making his first NFL catch in Week 3, not only has Pierce been a consistent producer for the Colts, he’s done it with big plays, and done it in critical moments. Basically, Pierce’s biggest strength in college has translated to the NFL.
Pierce has already had 4 catches of at least 25 yards this season. That’s tied for 2nd among all rookies (George Pickens has 5). Pierce’s 54.2 receiving yards per game is also second among all rookies (behind Chris Olave’s 77.8 yards per game).
In a road win in Denver, it was Pierce’s consistent night of 8 catches for 81 yards that included some important 4th quarter grabs in pushing the Colts to overtime, and the eventual win.
Of course, the most notable play of Pierce’s career is Ryan and the Colts believing in him for the game-winning 32-yard touchdown against Jacksonville earlier this week.
“Well, making the plays helps (laughs),” Ryan says of Pierce being someone he already trusts. “That certainly helps when you see guys being productive. But it’s the little things. It’s for a young player, the way he shows up every day, the way he works, you can trust him. There’s just a feeling you get knowing he’s well prepared. He’s done everything he can to have himself ready for the adjustments that he has to make. But he’s also awesome in practice. He goes after it. He works really hard in practice.
“And I think Pitt (Michael Pittman Jr.) has done a great job as a leader kind of setting the tone for what those guys are expected to do. And I think Alec as a young player smartly has looked up to that and said, ‘Okay, this is what I need to do.’ And for me, in addition to the production, his level of preparation, the way he goes into the building every day earns my respect.”
On that game-winning touchdown against the Jaguars, Reich was glued on Pierce at the snap.
For rookie wideous, the ability to beat NFL press coverage is arguably their year-one biggest challenge.
But it’s something Pierce has found early success with, on a variety of routes.
“Just hats off to Alec,” Reich began after Sunday’s win. “The release he had, because it’s right in front of our bench, so I’m watching it the whole way. He had so much poise on the release. What happens is a lot of times, guys just try and rush the release. And he didn’t rush the release.
“That’s what he’s been doing well all year.”
Again, the best play right now for the Colts is tossing the ball in the direction of Pierce.
Whether it’s a big-play, or drawing a flag, good things have happened quite often when targeting No. 14.