INDIANAPOLIS — It’s been 13 months since Kemoko Turay has played in an NFL game. That streak should end Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts host the Green Bay Packers (4:25 p.m, FOX).
“It was a journey, just facing an obstacle where I had to overcome,” Turay said during a video call Friday. “I did everything possible for me to get back and try to help the team, and (I’m) feeling confident again.”
Ideally, the 25-year-old’s debut would have come much earlier in the season. But he’ll certainly be welcome this week with two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the NFL’s third-ranked scoring offense visiting Lucas Oil Stadium.
No defensive player on the roster can match Turay’s combination of speed and bend. It’s made him a perennial breakout candidate since he was drafted 52nd overall in 2018.
There were signs that rise was taking place through the first four weeks last season before Turay suffered a gruesome ankle injury during an October victory against the Kansas City Chiefs. The coronavirus pandemic complicated Turay’s rehab in the spring, but the team was still hopeful he’d be able to start the regular season on time.
After testing the ankle with side work during training camp, however, general manager Chris Ballard decided to leave Turay on the physically unable to perform list and allow him more time to recover.
He was activated from PUP on Tuesday, and his week of practice reportedly was encouraging.
“I don’t know if there was a setback,” Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich said. “We did know it was going to take a long time. You guys know me. I tend to be optimistic. I was hoping (his return) would have came a little faster. This is just my opinion, my observation — like the last stage, the last phase of that recovery just didn’t quite get there as fast as it needs to get there for a guy to go out and play this game.
“We all know that’s a big step to go through, so credit to Kemoko on his perseverance and our training staff for continuing to work through that with him.”
Turay also credits former Colts star Robert Mathis, now a freelance pass-rushing consultant.
The two worked together throughout Turay’s rehab, and that regular work kept the youngster mentally in the game.
“Working with Robert Mathis just kept my confidence up, just being on the sidelines observing and watching film,” Turay said, “and it kept me motivated just watching the game.”
Turay’s likely to be on a limited snap count against the Packers. He’ll most likely be used as a pass-rush specialist, allowing him to ease his way back into a deep defensive line rotation.
Indianapolis certainly will welcome the fresh legs against Rodgers, and Turay retains high expectations for himself.
“I wasn’t thinking about the injury,” Turay said of his practice week. “It felt good. I felt good out there. Me, personally, I just have a high expectation of where I want to be, so it’s always going to be like that.”
Defensive end Denico Autry — the team leader with six sacks — was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday, making him ineligible to play in Sunday’s game. Fellow defensive linemen Grover Stewart, Al-Quadin Muhammad and Tyquan Lewis were held out of Thursday’s practice as a precaution, but all three were cleared Friday and returned to the field.
The Colts also will play against Green Bay without special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone because of coronavirus-related issues. Special teams assistant Frank Ross will take over the top role, and director of player development David Thornton — a former Indianapolis linebacker — has stepped in as a de facto special teams assistant.
“Franky is incredible,” Reich said. “He’s very detail-oriented, very demonstrative. He’s got just as much juice as Bubba has. Those two guys are obviously — day and night — working out the plan and the details together. With the leaders on our team, our special teams leaders, Franky will do a great job.”
No players were ruled out for Indianapolis because of injury concerns.
Cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (knee), right tackle Braden Smith (thumb), tight end Noah Togiai (knee) and Turay did not practice Friday and were listed as questionable. Tight end Jack Doyle (concussion) was a full participant but also was listed as questionable.
The Packers ruled out running back Tyler Ervin (wrist/ribs) and listed defensive lineman Montravius Adams (toe) as doubtful.
Cornerback Ka’dar Hollman (quadricep), wide receiver Allen Lazard (core), safety Will Redmond (shoulder), and wide receivers Equanimeous St. Brown (knee) and Darius Shepard (shoulder) are questionable. Only Shepard was a full participant Friday.