Next man up: Colts rookie RB Taylor takes over as starter with Mack out

Jonathan Taylor had nine carries for 22 yards and six receptions for 67 yards in his NFL debut.
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sport

INDIANAPOLIS — Marlon Mack could have bristled when the Indianapolis Colts took another running back, Jonathan Taylor, in the second round of April’s draft.

Instead, Mack welcomed the tag-team concept. It lasted less than one half.

Coach Frank Reich confirmed the Colts’ worst fears Monday, announcing Mack will miss the rest of this season with a ruptured right Achilles tendon. Taylor will move into the starting role.

“That’s really unfortunate,” Reich said. “Marlon is beloved in our locker room, and he’s a true Colt. And he was just looking so good in training camp and in his few snaps yesterday. He looked like lightning out there. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet, but I left him a message that said I think the best is still ahead for Marlon Mack.”

He was injured on a 3-yard catch midway through the second quarter of Sunday’s 27-20 loss at Jacksonville, and the timing couldn’t be worse for Mack.

Though he had battled through injuries each of his first three seasons, Mack’s numbers steadily increased. He rushed for a career-best 1,091 yards last season, scoring eight touchdowns while averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Mack believed Taylor’s presence could help him post even bigger numbers this season with a chance to enter free agency in March.

But after a strong camp and a fast start against the Jaguars — four carries for 26 yards and two catches for 27 yards —- Mack pulled up lame on his third reception. He immediately went to the ground, reaching for his foot.

The Colts initially described it as an ankle injury before acknowledging after the game that it was actually an Achilles tendon injury.

Indy has plenty of talent in the backfield, and Reich expects everyone to pitch in as the Colts try to improve on last season’s No. 7-ranked rushing offense.

“Jonathan will step into the starting role. He looked good yesterday, and he ‘s ready,” Reich said. “Nyheim (Hines) is still going to be an important part of the mix and then Jordan (Wilkins), we’ve got a lot of confidence in Jordan. I’m a big Jordan fan. He’s a good runner and he’ll do a good job for us.”

Taylor, selected No. 41 overall, was Wisconsin’s workhorse the past three seasons. He topped the 2,000-yard mark in 2018 and 2019 and became the first Football Bowl Subdivision player to top 6,000 yards in three years. The two-time Doak Walker Award winner, which goes to college football’s best running back, had nine carries for 22 yards and six receptions for 67 yards in his NFL debut.

And now the New Jersey native promises he’ll be ready for the increased workload.

“I take this saying from college: You don’t count the reps, you make the reps count,” Taylor said Sunday. “So whenever, if they ever called my number, I was determined to make sure I was able to go in and was ready and not be able to have a drop-off. Coach Reich did a tremendous job as far as making sure everything was 100% crystal clear throughout meetings, throughout training camps and up until the game to make sure that I fully understood the game plan and everything that was supposed to be going on.”

Hines scored both of Indy’s touchdowns Sunday and finished as the team’s leading rusher, seven carries for 28 yards, while leading the team with eight receptions. He had 45 yards receiving. He showed his breakaway speed in December when he returned two punts for touchdowns against Carolina.

Mack’s injury also opens opportunities for Wilkins, who like Hines was drafted by the Colts in 2018. And it’s always possible the Colts could add another back to the mix before the home opener Sunday against Minnesota, which also lost its opener.

But one thing already seems clear to Taylor: Mack will continue to make an impact this season from the sideline.

“I know he’s going to be in not only my ear but the rest of the backs’ ears until he gets back,” Taylor said. “It’s just going to be about staying in the books, staying in our protections. As long as everyone’s on the same page with the same call, we should be good to go.”