The Indianapolis Colts have dealt with quite a few injuries at the wide receiver position, which appears to be par for the course since 2018. With these injuries, I have continually seen fans asking where rookie seventh round pick Michael Strachan is, and why he isn't seeing any playing time.
While I have tried to explain it the best I can, within the constraints of social media, I decided to put all my thoughts on the "situation" into an article to explain it in more detail. Strachan is a talented receiver, but the Colts are doing what they have always done with young receivers.
They are taking it slow.
The Coaches Told Us This All Offseason
To properly set up why Strachan hasn't seen too many snaps this year, I think a lot of what the coaches said in the offseason can be very telling. While these pressers are littered with coach speak, it is quite easy to read in between the lines when you know what you are looking for.
Here are a few offseason quotes regarding Strachan that directly point to the Colts taking it slow with him in his rookie year:
Offensive Coordinator Marcus Brady on August 6th:
"You can tell when he knows what he’s doing, he looks really good. We have a big install with these guys, and plays that he’s a little bit fuzzy on, he plays a little bit slower. That’s just going to pick up with more reps."
Brady on August 24th:
“Just his development as far as picking up – just learning the game. That’s the biggest thing for him. Learning the game, learning the techniques of the DBs and then obviously the switch you see physically, his size, that he can do something different because of his height, his catch radius, his strength. It’s something else that can add a dimension to our offense."
Brady on August 30th:
"He's still learning because he is young and the more reps that he gets, the better that he’s going to get. It’s just going to be our job of just managing that aspect. Don’t overload him with too much, keep it simple early and then let him progress throughout the season."
General Manager Chris Ballard on September 1st (regarding if he sees Strachan contributing in year one):
We'll see. He’s coming along. He has a ways to go but he’s a big, talented guy. It’s always interesting in training camp with the young players, that they’ll start out really fast and then reality hits them of the daily work that has to be put in. They’re not used to the workload, they’re not used to the volume that they’re getting. So, you’ll see a little bit of a dip and then all of a sudden, they’ll spike up again, which I thought we started to see with him. Look, he’s a big, talented athlete that has ball skills that is still learning how to play. So we’ll see. We’ll start him out in small doses and then see how he handles it. The more he produces, the more he’ll get the ball.
Now, on the other side, here is what the coaches have said needs to be done by a wide receiver to be active on gameday:
Head Coach Frank Reich on August 22nd (regarding final cut down battles at wide receiver):
"Obviously, there’s a lot to consider there because we feel so strong about this room and about some of these young players. Special teams factors into that, versatility factors into that, what role we see them playing, how they complement those first four guys, in what role they would play. I think those are the main factors that we think about with those other guys."
Brady on September 28th (regarding DeMichael Harris playing over Michael Strachan in week three):
"DeMichael (Harris) has had very good practices, and then part of it is he’s very involved in special teams. He was ready to go in if we needed him offensively, but his impact was for Bubba (Ventrone) and the special teams crew. It was more that was better for the team."
So, to summarize all of these quotes down into something more brief, the Colts talked all offseason about playing it slow with Strachan. They weren't going to put too much on his plate, and they were going to primarily have him focus on one receiver position rather than learning all of them (along with special teams).
In the meantime, a receiver has to be versatile and contribute on special teams in order to play on game day. While Strachan is still learning, players such as Ashton Dulin and Harris are more ready for the versatile, special teams roles. It simply becomes a numbers game and Strachan is the odd man out for the moment.
It Makes Sense to Play it Slow
The Colts have always done this with young wide receivers (under Frank Reich). Michael Pittman Jr took over half of the season to get going in 2020. Dezmon Patmon, as a rookie, played less than five snaps on the season despite being on the active roster all year.
This may be a strategy that you can disagree with, but it especially makes sense for a young receiver like Strachan that is coming from the D-II ranks of college football.
Strachan did see some snaps in the first two weeks of the year, but there were a few mistakes that a rookie, that isn't ready, will make. The most notable one came in the redzone in week two against the Los Angeles Rams when he ran into right tackle Julie'n Davenport on a fake reverse.
Strachan shouldn't be killed for mistakes like this since he is still learning how to play the position of receiver in the NFL. In the mean time though, the Colts can't have mistakes like this on game day. So, it makes a lot more sense to play players like Harris or Dulin who won't make these kinds of mistakes.
Don't Lose Hope
My overarching point of this piece is to say don't lose hope on Strachan just yet. He is a super talented player that just needs time. The Colts don't want to throw too much at him at once, and the problem is that a lot of bottom-of-the-roster receivers have to wear so many hats.
Look at Dulin for instance. He returns kicks, can play every single receiver position, is a key blocker on most screens and run plays, and is the primary gunner on punt coverage. That would be a lot to throw at Strachan right away.
The Colts obviously have faith in developing the young receiver, hence why they kept him on the 53-man roster. The Colts just want to do it the right way without killing his confidence early.
Could he finally see the field with the recent injury to Parris Campbell? Potentially. Even if the Colts opt to go with Harris though, that shouldn't bury the potential that Strachan has.
Strachan has all the talent in the world and the Colts are going about his development in all the right ways. He will eventually get his due on the field, fans just have to stay patient until that happens.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.