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Alec Pierce knows he has something to prove in Colts WR battle

INDIANAPOLIS — Alec Pierce knows he has something to prove.

Pierce has spent most of his first two seasons with the Colts as a bullet without a gun, a deep threat who has played mostly with quarterbacks who were unwilling or unable to consistently push the ball to him downfield.

But his role was clearly defined, and it was his alone. Pierce played nearly 2,000 snaps in his first two seasons in the NFL, averaging 15.2 yards per reception in back-to-back seasons with more than 500 receiving yards, albeit little of the volume expected from a No. 2 receiver.

He has competition for playing time now. Indianapolis used its second-round pick this season on Texas receiver Adonai Mitchell, another explosive target who can make plays down the field and a natural at separating from defensive backs.

With Michael Pittman Jr. firmly entrenched in the No. 1 role and Josh Downs operating out of the slot, Pierce and Mitchell will be placed in direct competition for snaps.

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“It’s my job to go into camp and prove that,” Pierce said. “I’ve just got to let my work on the field speak for itself.”

For Pierce, the key to taking the next step is twofold.

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Alec Pierce (14) looks back at Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Amik Robertson (21) as he runs to the end zone for a touchdown Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, during a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Alec Pierce (14) looks back at Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Amik Robertson (21) as he runs to the end zone for a touchdown Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, during a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

First of all, the Colts believe Pierce did an excellent job getting open deep down the field last season, only to see his labor go mostly unrewarded because of former backup quarterback Gardner Minshew’s reticence to throw the deep ball.

If young starting quarterback Anthony Richardson is healthy, he will be much more likely to take those shots, offering Pierce chances to prove the Colts right about his big-play ability.

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Pierce also has to prove he can do more.

“For sure, I think there’s a lot more to my game,” Pierce said. “I want to have the chance to be able to showcase that.”

Pierce has spent the offseason working on the rest of the game.

The Colts coaching staff believed Pierce could benefit from more play strength — using his upper body to fight through contact from defensive backs — and in response, he’s noticeably bigger, adding five pounds of muscle.

The rest of the improvements the Colts want to see will be proven on the training camp fields at Grand Park and the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium. Pierce was held out of the team’s mandatory minicamp this week after a teammate stepped on his foot during OTAs, but the real competition will come in the fall, and the third-year receiver knows he has to show he can do more.

“More versatility,” Pierce said. “I want to be able to do more things, run more routes, get open on more different types of routes.”

Pierce is handling the looming competition well.

By all accounts, he has been a model teammate since the Colts drafted him in the second round in 2022, and he likes what he’s seen from the rookie so far.

“High tides raise all ships,” Pierce said. “You’re going to get better from your competition. … He’s definitely a really explosive player, really talented young player. He’s definitely a guy who can win one-on-one matchups.”

Pierce, Mitchell and tight end Jelani Woods may be key to the Colts offense taking the next step this season.

Indianapolis headed into the offseason intent on producing more explosive passing plays — the Colts finished 24th in the NFL on throws of 20 yards or more last season — and those three players are the weapons best-suited to stress defenses vertically.

“I think in this league as a receiving core, it’s good to have guys with different strengths so you can utilize them differently – hopefully not to the extent that the defense gets a great, great tell on you — but to have guys that can do some different things well,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “We think Alec and AD may have some of those ways they can complement each other, but shoot, we’re going to go out to the field, let everybody get a bunch of reps and see what’s best for the Colts.”

How the playing time ends up getting divided between the two players will come down to what they prove they can do within the offense.

Pierce believes he can do more than he’s shown in his first two seasons.

“It goes both ways,” Pierce said. “I’ve got to show it in practice, and they’ve got to trust me to run those routes, too.”

For the first time in his Colts career, there’s another wide receiver on the roster the team could choose to highlight instead.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Alec Pierce knows he has something to prove in Colts WR battle