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Colts WR Josh Downs ready to make Year 2 leap: 'I left some plays on the field last year'

The offseason discussions surrounding the Indianapolis Colts offense have centered around Anthony Richardson's recovery, Michael Pittman's new contract and drafting wideout Adonai Mitchell in the second round. Josh Downs seems to have been somewhat lost in the equation.

The second-year receiver is coming off a campaign in which he set the club's rookie record with 68 catches, generating 771 yards and two touchdowns. Downs displayed a propensity to create open space on routes and clutch hands. His 3.3 yards of separation per target was equal to Tyreek Hill's last season, per Next Gen Stats.

Downs aims to improve his route-running acumen even further, which would aid a Year 2 leap.

"I feel like I have some little things I can improve on in the route releases," Downs told the team's official website. "I left some plays on the field last year, but everybody does that. I looked at those plays. I'm trying to identify coverages better -- things like that."

Downs played the primary slot position in Shane Steichen's offense (79.1 percent of snaps in 2023), and his Downs ability to get off the line of scrimmage and create immediate availability for the quarterback will pay dividends, particularly as Richardson grows in the scheme.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, when discussing Downs, noted that slots tend to make a more significant leap in their second season.

"Slot receiver ends up being a position where the more you understand about what the other guys on offense are doing and what the guys on defense are doing, the better you can play because when you play in that slot, there are guys inside of you, there are guys outside of you," Cooter said last week. "Sometimes you have certain routes where it makes sense as a coaching staff to give him a few reads. You can break in or break out, or you can sit and break out, and all that good stuff. We teach those. We try to teach them really well, but for a rookie becoming a second-year guy, you hope to notice, 'Gosh, I recognized a certain coverage. I knew that linebacker was going to be inside, so I didn't break inside.' Those types of things are the advancements as the offensive system sort of goes."

Downs added that the improved grasp on the offense will allow him to hit the ground running.

"That comes with understanding the offense more -- just knowing what the other receivers, even the tight end, are running," Downs said. "And then knowing the run game better as well and just having a year under your belt, you know the level of competition you're going to go up against now, and you see what type of players you're playing against each and every week. Just like high school and college, that second year is big."

The Mitchell addition supplants Alec Pierce's reps on the outside, not Downs' opportunities inside. Pittman remains the No. 1 wideout, but Downs profiles as a slippery slot who can take a step forward in 2024 and help create a more dynamic offense in Indy.

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