Welcome to the first "official" day of summer. The "solstice" occurred in our Northern Hemisphere at 7:28am Eastern this morning, making this day the longest day of the year. If you happened to be around Stonehenge in Britain this past weekend, you saw pictures like this.
Speaking of summer, training camp is only five weeks away. Since the start of OTAs back on May 20th, certain players have needed a strong off-season to help their standing as camp rolls around. On paper, this Colts roster is loaded. So, for certain players, if they want to crack the roster, or even make the team, they needed to have a productive off-season.
Here's a list of five who seemed to do well for themselves:
To use Fili's own words, last season he "did not contribute to the team." He was uncomfortable, unfocused, and did not look like he belonged in the pro game. This off-season, the light switch seems to have been flipped as Fili seems to have dedicated himself to learning the defense. Year two is very important for Moala, and Colts coach Jim Caldwell knows it.
"The big thing is learning how we do things from a technical standpoint, just in terms of fundamentals and techniques, playing with leverage. He is a tall guy, inherently. We just have to get him down, bend his knees a little bit more and use what God has given him, in terms of his ability. He has strength and explosion. We have to bring those things out, so we can see those snap after snap. Oftentimes, if a guy is thinking about his assignments, focusing in on those things, he gets a little tunnel vision, and more often than not you don’t get an opportunity to see his natural ability, and that’s where he was last year. He was learning so much that we didn’t get an opportunity to see him at his best."
Word out of OTAs is that Fili does look improved and more comfortable lining up in the Colts Tampa-2. With a strong tackle rotation featuring Daniel Muir (who won his starting job last year after an impressive off-season), Antonio Johnson, and Eric Foster, Fili will have to really "WOW!" the coaches if he wants meaningful playing time.
The Colts passed up on USC left tackle Charles Brown in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft mainly because they have confidence in Charlie Johnson as the team's left tackle. While Pro Football Focus clearly thinks Bill Polian is nuts to assume Johnson is a quality starter at left tackle, that hasn't stopped CJ from making certain he is 100% ready to start the 2010 season.
Charlie was one of the first players to report to OTAs, and with the Colts transitioning former-left tackle Tony Ugoh to guard, the signal from the Colts coaching staff is they have faith in Charlie as well.
Part of the reason the Saints traded tackle Jammal Brown to the Redskins is they feel very confident with left tackle Jermon Bushrod and the rookie Brown. Charlie needs to have a better 2010 season. Otherwise, passing on Brown may come back to hurt the Colts.
2010 is a monster year for Bob Sanders. If he misses significant time again due to injury, or lands on IR before the season concludes like he did in 2009, the league will label his $37.5 million dollar deal with the Colts a bust. Right now, Bob Sanders is the NFL poster boy for "injury prone, over-rated, over-paid players." I don't like that. You don't like that. But, regardless of what we like, that is the perception. And while some folks (Bill Polian) care little about perception, the fact is perception plays a big part in the NFL.
However, for the first time in years, Bob participated in OTAs. He looked strong, quick, and (most importantly) healthy. Getting back the Bob from 2007 would go a long way to cementing this team's defense as a top ten group. It is important to note that the Colts very nearly won a Super Bowl without Bob, and the team has tremendous faith in reserve safety Melvin Bullitt. One of the reasons they do is because Bullitt has played more games than Sanders the last two years.
Being at OTAs, and participating the way that he did, will help Bob regain his status as a premiere safety in the NFL. Coach Caldwell on Sanders during OTAs:
"He’s healthy. He moves well. He’s excited. I think he feels really good, and he looks good."
Having Gonzo participate in OTAs was a big step in the former-first rounder regaining his status with the Colts. Like it or not, Gonzo was replaced last year by Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. Now, with Garcon and Garcon pretty firmly entrenched at their respective receiving positions, Gonzo needs to prove he can 1) Stay healthy, and 2) Fight to regain his job.
The only setback is that Gonzo suffered yet another injury just prior to the May mandatory mini-camp. It's an injury Gonzo called a "downer," but he made some fairly strong guarantees that he would be ready by August. Here's Gonzo on his injury, via WISH-TV in Indianapolis:
"Had a little bit of a setback on Tuesday of last week [prior to May mini-camp], which was kind of a serious downer for me obviously. To fight back, you keep going and going, and when you have a setback its tough, but I'll be back. I'm going to rehab it, get it straight and I'll be healthy and ready to go come August".
The fact that Gonzo participated in a majority of OTAs is a big positive. He must be ready to practice by August 1st. Otherwise, players like Sam Giguere or Blair White could leap-frog him on the roster. Speaking of Blair White...
Undrafted rookies have just as much a chance of making the final 53-man roster as seasoned veterans do, and if there has been one rookie that has stood out this off-season it's Blair White. Colts coaches and team management seem to be in love with the kid from Michigan State.
White really "wowed" Colts General Manager Chris Polian during the rookie mini-camp. The rumor (because media aren't allowed at rookie camp) is that White caught every ball thrown to him, no matter the QB.
A strong training camp by White, coupled with his impressive work during OTAs, could go a long way to him finding a place on this roster. The key for White is how he performs on special teams.