Blackmon eager to serve as Colts' 'eraser'
It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise Julian Blackmon was the first player to intercept Matt Ryan in 11-on-11 drills this summer.
The way it happened might have ranked a little higher on the shock scale. After a miscommunication with wide receiver Ashton Dulin, the veteran quarterback sailed a pass into a spot he expected the target to be.
Blackmon sprinted across the field initially in preparation to clean up a possible reception. But he made a quick adjustment to the overthrow and then a diving catch for the interception Monday afternoon.
In that moment, it was difficult to remember the 23-year-old is rehabbing a major injury to his left leg for the second time in three offseasons.
As a rookie coming out of Utah in 2020, Blackmon was recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the Pac-12 championship game. He rebounded quickly enough to make 14 starts and record 42 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Last year, his season ended after just six games when he tore his Achilles’ tendon at the end of a routine practice. It can take a full year for a player to return to the field from that injury, and many say they don’t really feel like themselves for an additional year after that.
Less than 10 months after tearing his Achilles’, Blackmon is playing a critical position in the Indianapolis Colts’ new defensive scheme and looking very much in top form.
“I’ve been trying to show everybody I’m not really scared to use my left (leg) anymore,” he said after Wednesday’s 90-minute practice. “Now that I’m getting warm and putting my feet into the ground, I just want to show my range – the ability’s still there. And it’s only gonna go up from here, as long as I stick to the treatment and follow what everybody’s telling me to do.”
The Colts are counting on it.
New coordinator Gus Bradley’s defense relies a lot on single-high safety looks. It’s a dangerous way to live in the NFL and requires a player with a specific set of skills to make the scheme work.
Earl Thomas became a superstar playing free safety for the Seattle Seahawks’ famed “Legion of Boom” defense Bradley helped to install and served as its first coordinator.
In a seven-year span between 2011-17, Thomas made six Pro Bowl appearances, was named first-team All-Pro three times and finished third in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year race in 2013.
Blackmon clearly has a long way to go to match those accolades, but his raw ability suggests he can be special in this role.
“The big thing with that spot in our defense is to cover a lot of grass both laterally and downhill and be that guy that can be a sure tackler,” Bradley said. “He’s working on all of his angles right now and leverage angles and things like that. But he made a great play covering a lot of ground (on Monday’s interception) – very, very happy that we have him.”
Not every player is mentally capable of handling such a high-wire act.
Many, many things can go wrong, and there are any number of ways the blame could be placed at Blackmon’s feet.
In addition to the physical requirements of the position, Blackmon and rookie strong safety Nick Cross – who will usually be lined up much closer to the line of scrimmage – must communicate clearly and concisely with their teammates.
It’s been common to hear Blackmon’s voice barking out instructions as he surveys the landscape in front of him during training camp practices, and that responsibility adds to pressure of his position.
But he welcomes the challenge.
“I mean, that’s what I love to do,” Blackmon said of being asked to cover a lot of ground. “I feel like I take it upon myself to erase. That’s what we call my position, specifically, is ‘The Eraser.’ So if we make a mistake, I’ll be there to fix it.”