Perhaps it seemed as if Donte Moncrief could be the odd man out in the Indianapolis Colts’ wide receiver equation.
The Colts had signed wide receiver Andre Johnson in free agency and drafted wide receiver Phillip Dorsett in the first round of April’s NFL draft. Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton signed a five-year, $65-million contract extension in August.
What about Moncrief?
The 2014 third-round pick out of Mississippi quietly went about his business in preseason, showing improvement in training camp with some solid plays. But much of the early buzz was about Dorsett and rookie wide receiver Duron Carter.
Moncrief showed he’s not a forgotten man in this offense during Sunday’s 27-14 loss at Buffalo. He caught six passes for 46 yards, including one touchdown on a fourth-down slant pass.
Because Hilton is a question mark with a left knee bruise for a Monday Night Football visit from the New York Jets, Moncrief could be a key contributor to his team bouncing back with a win.
“I feel like if you’ve got your eye on the ball, you’re supposed to catch it. If it touches your hands, you’re supposed to catch it,” he said Thursday. “That’s how I was raised up. My dad always preached that to me. If it touches your hands, you’ve got to catch the ball, so that’s how I look at it now.
“If the ball comes my way, I feel like I can catch it, no matter where the ball is at. No matter where it’s put, I’ve got to make that play. I’ve got to be special.”
He showed flashes as a rookie. He had a couple of 100-yard receiving games and caught three touchdown passes in those appearances. But in the other 14 games, Moncrief had 22 catches for 197 yards.
The mission was clear for this season. Moncrief knows he has to be more consistent.
Like many of his teammates, he’s excited to play in primetime. He also understands until Colts receivers consistently win their one-on-one battles to burn defenses with big plays, opponents are going to follow the Bills’ blueprint and bring blitzing pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck.
It worked for the Bills. The Jets will be aggressive, too.
“Oh yeah, we’ll see some of the same, a lot of blitzes, a lot of man,” he said. “We’ve got to beat this man so people will stop doing this, and let them know you can’t play man against this offense.”
The Colts didn’t make the Bills pay for their defensive aggression. They committed drive-killing penalties and had three turnovers. Moncrief botched a kickoff return when he thought he was in the field of play and made it out to just the 4-yard line.
“We know that wasn’t us,” he said. “We know that wasn’t our best game. We know that wasn’t our offense. Too many penalties, too many dropped balls, not enough running after the catch.
“We’re getting back to ourself, playing fast, playing physical, going out there and making catches and running with the ball.”
Dorsett fumbled away a punt and had two catches for 45 yards in his NFL debut. He also could have a larger role in the offense if Hilton can’t play or is slowed by that sore knee. Johnson was targeted 10 times and caught just four passes for 24 yards and dropped a two-point conversion pass.
After one game, it appears clear the Colts will be counting on Moncrief.
The national primetime stage awaits in the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts don’t want to start 0-2, as they did last year after a Monday Night Football home loss to Philadelphia.
“Monday Night Football, it’s something that you dream of,” Moncrief said. “This is going to be a huge game, it’s Monday night, game on TV, everyone’s watching. You’ve got to go out there and make plays. No slack. Just go out there and be special.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.