Colts Coach Nick Sirianni Explains How Rookie Receivers Need to Adjust in NFL

The transition from college to the NFL is a process of adjustment for Indianapolis Colts wide receivers like rookie Michael Pittman Jr. and second-year Parris Campbell. Offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni says the biggest change is fending off tighter press coverage.
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INDIANAPOLIS — Rookie wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. has earned praise for his competitiveness and desire to learn in Indianapolis Colts training camp.

Second-year wide receiver Parris Campbell looks like the speedy player the Colts drafted in the second round in 2019 before a series of injuries required three surgeries and ended his debut year early. A year later, Campbell looks more comfortable on the field and is making plays at camp.

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Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni was asked on a Friday Zoom call about how young wide receivers have to adapt in the NFL.

“For a wide receiver, they just see a lot more guys in their face now,” Sirianni said. “It’s different. The college game and the pro game, there’s just so much more press coverage (now). We have different things that convert versus press and versus zone or press coverage, so those guys have to get used to changing their route based off of what look they get. A lot of times in college, that’s not necessarily the case. It’s like, ‘Hey, you run this route that’s on the paper and go do it.’ There are not a lot of adjustments.

“So that happens especially early on with rookies. They have to adjust to that. Then just on top of that, the guys are closer to you when they – I don’t know how many guys actually were ever close to Parris Campbell in college. He was really open because he’s really fast and really explosive. It’s been a while since I watched any Ohio State film, but I don’t remember seeing any Michigan guys too close to him when they were playing or Penn State or whatever – Wisconsin and them all. That’s an adjustment they have to make as well, the speed just picks up.”

Indianapolis Colts rookie wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr. (86) and Dezmon Patmon (85) prepare for Monday's camp practice at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Colts rookie wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr. (86) and Dezmon Patmon (85) prepare for Monday's camp practice at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Campbell appeared in just seven games and caught 18 passes for 127 yards and one TD. He underwent surgeries for a sports hernia, fractured hand, and fractured foot. He’s healthy now, and it shows.

The Colts drafted Pittman with the 34th overall pick because he knows how to use his size — 6-4 and 223 pounds — as well as speed to fend off defenders and high-point passes well to make contested catches. He’s also impressed coaches with his reliable hands.

“Some guys separate with their size and some guys separate with their quickness,” Sirianni said. “I always really like those wide receivers that can do it with both. I think that we’re getting to see that every day. The guy has really strong hands. He’s not dropping a lot of balls … and he’s strong with the catch in traffic.”

Sirianni mentioned another difference in the NFL.

“Another adjustment they have to make is sometimes they have to slow down to catch the ball (in college),” he said. “These quarterbacks in the NFL are so accurate that some catches that they are not used to making – like the perfect over-the-shoulder catch — happens way more. It’s just getting those reps and some of those things because of how different the players are and schemes.

“It always takes time and I know if Parris didn’t have some of those things that he went through last year, he would have definitely matured faster, but he’s doing really well. Hopefully, Michael (Pittman) does the same. He’s shown that he can so far.”

(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is phillipbwilson24@yahoo.com.)