WESTFIELD — There are plays of the day in training camp practices, and then there are bold declarations.
Second-year wide receiver Deon Cain fell into the latter category Saturday afternoon with a series of downfield catches that had even Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich raving following the nearly two-hour session.
Cain’s big day included a leaping back-shoulder grab on the sideline and an adjustment to a deep throw from quarterback Phillip Walker in which he used his body to keep pursuing cornerback Jalen Collins at bay and haul in a long touchdown catch.
He also caught a long touchdown pass in 7-on-7 drills as he continually displayed the kind of break-away speed that was so evident before he tore his ACL in his first preseason game as a rookie last year.
“He had a huge day today,” Reich said. “I don’t know how many deep balls he caught today, but usually in practice if you catch one deep ball you feel great. But I think he caught three or four. That’s a massive day for a receiver on the practice field.
“So, again, a player who’s been through what he’s been through, every great day at practice is really another mental hurdle to clear and confidence to build. ’Cause, right now, it’s all about confidence.”
Cain had mixed results in Thursday’s exhibition opener at Buffalo. He pulled in two catches for 15 yards but also had one drop in four targets. His final attempt was broken up in the end zone on a nice defensive play by Bills cornerback Lafayette Pitts.
All of it — the good, the bad and the in-between — is part of Cain’s ongoing comeback.
The 23-year-old Clemson star said last week the process has made him change the way he approaches the game. Like a pitcher who must become more crafty while recovering from an arm injury, Cain has become more of a student of the game during the past year.
“I learned more about myself, just like mental toughness and stuff because I had to fight through a lot of different things coming from an ACL injury,” Cain said. “I think that really helped me and molded me into a better football player coming out here. Now I got a lot more love for the game because once it was taken away from me I had to learn from all different types of aspects how this game goes: film room, studying, all that stuff. I really feel like it’s helped me to be a better football player.”
The Colts welcomed a familiar face to the practice field Saturday.
Former all-pro defensive end Dwight Freeney spent some time working with the defensive linemen and addressed the team after the practice.
Reich was particularly impressed with one point Freeney delivered.
“Just a great message to the team,” he said. “The one thing he said that just really stood out to me was, ‘Hey, everybody’s doing what’s required of them. You’ve got a schedule. Everything’s required of you, but what are you doing to be great that’s not required of you?’”
Freeney was a part of both of Indianapolis’ Super Bowl teams, and he will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime of the Nov. 10 game against the Miami Dolphins at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Quarterback Andrew Luck watched most of Saturday’s practice alongside offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady.
Reich said there’s no change in the physical status of the 29-year-old who continues to regain strength in an ailing left calf. The head coach continues to be extremely calm in discussing Luck’s absence, and he declined to name a date at which he’ll begin to worry about the quarterback’s availability for the Sept. 8 regular-season opener at the Los Angeles Chargers.
Instead, he remains confident Luck can quickly make up for any lost ground.
“You count on the fact that this isn’t the average physical human being,” Reich said. “This guy is freakish in his abilities, physically and mentally. So when he gets back, he’s naturally gonna progress faster than most people just ’cause of his gifts.”
Tight end Jack Doyle (oblique) and rookie defensive end Ben Banogu (hamstring) returned to practice Saturday. Center Ryan Kelly (shoulder) took reps on the side with trainers and is closer to his own return.
Tight end Eric Ebron sat out and is dealing with what Reich described as “a little bit of an ankle/foot deal.” Running back Jordan Wilkins also missed practice and is undergoing further evaluation for a foot injury.
Guard Ian Silberman, who was taken to an area hospital just before Thursday’s exhibition opener at Buffalo with what the team described as an abdominal issue, was released Saturday with a non-football illness designation.
Free agent guard Nate Theaker was signed to the 90-man roster. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in 2017 and also has spent time with the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots.