Colts’ Julian Blackmon not 100%, but he’s getting there

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INDIANAPOLIS – The day will come when Julian Blackmon pulls himself out of bed and his knee isn’t aching, or just sore.

He’s not there, yet.

The Indianapolis Colts’ rookie safety was on the practice field again Tuesday – that’s two days after being taken off the non-football injury list – but he initially worked with the training staff while his teammates were going through positional drills.

Slowly but surely, he’s completing a long, arduous journey that began Dec. 6. That’s when Blackmon tore the ACL in his left knee in the first half of Utah’s Pac-12 championship game with Oregon.

There was surgery, rehab and more rehab. And, finally, back on the field.

“It’s been a process, you know?’’ Blackmon said Tuesday on a Zoom conference call. It’s been one that I’ve always trusted.

“To be honest, I never had any negative thoughts. As soon as I got hurt, I’m a firm believer in God. I kinda just believed that I was here for a reason: one, I can handle it, and two, I needed it for something bigger.

“The journey’s been long, but it’s been worth it.’’

But again, it’s an on-going journey. Where does he believe he is on the proverbial Health Meter?

“In my mind I would say high-90s, 95 (percent) if (not) a little bit higher than that,’’ Blackmon said. “I feel really good, and the training staff here has done a really good job with me, just making me understand the better I feel, the more I’m going to want to be out there.

“But I can’t rush it out there. I’ve got to make sure my knee can handle it as well as mentally I’ve got to be prepared to come in and know what I’m supposed to do on the field.’’

The Colts are convinced Blackmon can do a lot on the field. He’s 6-0, 187 pounds. He possesses speed and range, and adds versatility to the back end of the defense. He was a first-team All-Pac-12 safety as a senior after being a two-time second-team all-conference cornerback.

On more than one occasion Tuesday, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus mentioned Blackmon’s “functional intelligence.’’

“We have no doubt he’s going to be awesome when he gets in there,’’ he said.

The question: when might that be?

When Chris Ballard drafted Blackmon in the third round of the April draft, he did so knowing full well the team probably wouldn’t benefit immediately.

“We know that he won’t be ready probably until late August, early September which means that he might not even really help us until October,’’ he said at the time.

It appears everyone’s projection was spot on. Blackmon is back on the practice field, but he’s not ready for game action.

“Right now we’re just seeing where he is health-wise,’’ Eberflus said, adding Blackmon is working with position coach Alan Williams on “the cone drills, going through the checklist you need to go through as a defensive player.

“We know it’s going to be awhile before he gets back. What that definition of ‘awhile’ is, I don’t know. Is that a week? Two weeks? Three weeks? I don’t know.’’

Neither does Blackmon. First, he must improve on his self-described 95-percent status.

“I would say it’s kind of just up to my knee and whenever one day I wake up and I’m not sore and I feel 100%, which would probably be later on in the year,’’ he said. “Most people say it takes about nine months, but really to feel 100% from a knee injury like this it takes about a year.

“Right now I feel really good, but I’ve got to progress in the right way in order to keep feeling good.’’

Four-time Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton normally is focused on his position and his side of the line of scrimmage. He was asked about Blackmon’s injury and subsequent rehab.

“You know I don’t talk defensive guys,’’ Hilton said.

He paused, then laughed.

“I actually sat down and talked with him maybe three days ago,’’ Hilton said. “Just watched the work he put in to get back.’’

Hilton is in his ninth season and makes it a point to spend more than a little time in the training room, even when nothing’s bothering him.

“I work on different things,’’ he said. “I was always seeing him in there, just constantly seeing him getting better, constantly wanting to improve. He’s always in there just grinding and working.

“I really admired that from a young guy. I was happy for him to come off the list, and for him to get out there it was an honor. I respect him and I look forward to seeing him out there playing.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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