INDIANAPOLIS — It started with a simple text: “Hey, let’s throw.”
Michael Pittman Jr. wasn’t waiting for training camp to begin. He knew fellow rookies Jacob Eason and Dezmon Patmon were training near him in southern California, and he saw a chance to get a head start.
So he made the text and set up a workout. As part of the Indianapolis Colts’ socially-distanced offseason, players were asked to send videos of their training sessions to their position coaches, and through that process the rookies’ intermittent workouts began to more closely resemble portions of an NFL practice.
“I was able to give (Eason) some routes to throw to those guys, and they were able to go out there, send me videos,” quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady said. “I’m able to coach him up, his drop, things of that nature. So we’ve been making do with what we can do virtually.”
Now that work is finally starting to ramp up.
It was a big week for the Colts’ rookies and Pittman in particular. He flew into Indianapolis on Monday, passed his physical and signed his first professional contract.
Then he took part in the first unofficial team workouts of the offseason. Players congregated in central Indiana under the leadership of veteran quarterback Philip Rivers and began the on-field bonding process for the 2020 season.
Coaches still aren’t allowed to participate in the workouts, and the entire 90-man roster has yet to come together at the same time. But there are more throwing sessions planned throughout the summer before training camp begins in late July at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
And the early work has helped Pittman get more comfortable in his new home.
“So the first day I was feeling kind of homesick, and then after that practice I felt good,” he said. “I felt like I was home. I felt like all of my teammates were very welcoming, and it just made everything easier because everybody is so cool. I think that we have a real family-style team, and I can’t wait.”
There are high expectations for the 22-year-old who was selected with the 34th overall draft pick in April.
The Colts haven’t had a true No. 2 wide receiver since Reggie Wayne retired in 2014 and T.Y. Hilton became the undisputed top target. At 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, Pittman also has the size the franchise has coveted for years.
He had a breakout senior season for Southern Cal, catching 101 passes for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns and being named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best college wide receiver. Despite being asked to make his fair share of contested catches — as is typical for big, physical receivers — he had just two drops on 140 targets last season, according to draft analyst Dane Brugler of The Athletic.
Those consistent hands prompted Colts owner Jim Irsay to draw comparisons to Wayne shortly after Pittman was drafted.
“When Mr. Irsay said that, that was probably one of the biggest compliments that I have ever got from a coach or owner,” Pittman said.
Comments like Irsay’s reveal the deep well of potential Indianapolis sees in the rookie wide receiver. But Pittman’s own words add to that perspective.
He mentioned Mike Evans, Michael Thomas, Julio Jones and Larry Fitzgerald as players with similar traits he likes to study and borrow from. And he showed terrific versatility during his dominant final season at USC.