KRAVITZ BLOG: Colts rookie Hines has ample promise, but first he's got to catch punts cleanly

Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines returns a punt during practice at the NFL team's football training camp in Westfield, Ind., Sunday, July 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Bob Kravitz

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WTHR) - Yeah, sure, you relax. You're a Colts' fourth-round draft choice – running back Nyheim Hines, to be specific – and you're playing in your first-ever NFL game, this one a night game at Seattle. Relax, take a deep, cleansing, meditative breath. Everything will be fine, just fine.

Except, well, it wasn't. It wasn't close to fine. It was a mini-disaster for a guy trying to sell himself to the Indianapolis Colts' brain trust this training camp. It happened last Thursday, when Hines badly misplayed two punts. Let's just say Monday's preseason home game against the Ravens can't come around fast enough. Eleven days between games feels like an eternity.

"Wasn't that great,'' he said with a wry smile, recalling his choppy Seattle debut. "[There's] the 48-hour rule, so I kind of got over it. It was the first game, some jitters. I didn't show what I wanted to show, but I kind of forgot it, flushed it away and learned from it.''

Head coach Frank Reich has shown that he's going to demand accountability and performance – see: Shamarko Thomas – but it makes sense to give Hines at least another opportunity, this time at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens. He's shown he can do it on a high level, specifically the ACC, having returned 12 punts his senior year for 135 yards and a touchdown. And honestly, you do not want Hilton back there putting himself in harm's way – unless he agrees to fair catch everything.

For Hines, the flight home was long and the harsh memories lasted even longer. But after hearing from coaches, teammates and family, he flushed it, or so he said.

When a friend reached out to him a few days after his shaky debut to talk about the game, Hines shot back "What game?''

Amnesia is a highly underrated quality in pro sports.

All of this explains why Friday's and Saturday's joint practices against the Ravens and Monday's home preseason game against the Ravens are so important, not just to Hines, but to the other running backs looking to insert themselves into the conversation after the Marlon Mack injury and Robert Turbin suspension. Young players such as Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Christine Michael and others have seen the door of opportunity swing wide open for them; now it's time to jump-cut their way through. Clearly, this team has a lot of questions, a lot of holes – at right tackle, at wide receiver beyond T.Y. Hilton, at cornerback, at linebacker – but this represents a time when the young backs can shine.

"I'm really excited for Monday," Hines said Friday. "It's been a long 11 days. I'm really excited about going out there and showing the world what I can do."

Hines, who was the fastest back to come out in the 2018 Draft, has the potential to become one of those Inspector Gadget type players, a Darren Sproles or Alvin Kamara, small of stature but shiftier than a politician on the take. If any organization knows the kind of pain that kind of scatback can inflict, it's the Colts, who've been torn asunder countless times by Sproles, the Magical Gnome. It's hoped, fervently, that he can be the kind of player who will keep defensive coordinators up at night, who can be used in specific packages some 12-to-15 times per game.

First, though, he's got to catch a punt. Just as a start. Baby steps.

"Those weapon backs, they are really special in terms of being able to do different things,'' Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "We faced [Darren Sproles] several times over the course of the years in the NFC East [while with Dallas]. They create matchup problems, they really do. Everybody has that change-of-pace back, that third-down back that's really a slot receiver type of guy that a lot of teams have. It becomes a matchup nightmare, so you have to really do a good job of who you are putting on him and then giving that guy help."

Said Hines: "I'm a mismatch guy. I've heard comparisons to Kamara, Sproles, guys like that. I've always liked guys my size, so I watch Sproles, Warrick Dunn, Jamaal Charles, the small speedsters.''

Hines is a tantalizing talent, and he gets a mulligan for playing sloppy, jittery football his first time out. Monday and beyond have to be better. Fourth rounders are guaranteed nothing. Just ask Zach Banner.

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