Two years ago, I picked a pretty good day to attend a Colts training camp practice.
Curtis Painter was working as the Colts starting quarterback as Peyton Manning...well, you know that story. It obviously wasn't going well for Painter. At the practice I attended, he threw three interceptions in the span of about 10 minutes, earning my immediate criticism. I couldn't believe the Colts were treating Painter as a serious backup quarterback who could fill in for Peyton while he was out. And I verbally expressed it.
That didn't didn't sit well with the two people in front of me, who turned out to be Painter's mother and brother.
"Excuse me, but he's trying the best he can. I'm sorry that's not good enough for you," Painter's mom said angrily.
Yep. Probably the most awkward moment of my life.
But hey, that's life when you analyze the good and bad of football players. Since they're playing in a high-profile sport, they're up for criticism. The entire point of team-building is separating the good players from the bad.
Fortunately, I haven't had to do anything like that this year. The quarterbacks on this team are much better than Painter and the overall makeup of the team looks more talented than the 2011 squad too. The roster has been quickly built to play well off its balance, and not just from Manning dragging the team to victory.
Friday's practice ended the first week of camp. The players will take the day off tomorrow and return to action on Sunday with an open practice at 1:50-4:30. There will be a lot to build on after a productive first week.
Here are my thoughts after watching the afternoon practice:
- We finally have something to go on with the undrafted free agent defensive backs. Near the end of practice, Sheldon Price made an athletic adjustment on a Chandler Harnish deep lob into the end zone, putting himself in position to become the wide receiver so he could go up and make an interception. I honestly haven't noticed anything out of Price all week. A play like that, though, intrigues me. I want to see more like from him, mostly because almost no one had gotten a hand on Harnish's passes up until that point. And usually the backup quarterbacks are the ones throwing most of the interceptions.
- It's starting to look like Pat McAfee really could be used on long field goals this year if needed. In the past, he kicked field goals in his free time during camp, doing it away from the rest of the team. Today, he finally did it as an organized team drill and looked pretty good in the process. He kicked a perfect 3 of 3 from about 35-40 yards in his first round before giving way to Brandon McManus, who hit 4 of his 5 attempts. Then the drill backed up to make it about a 60-yard attempt for McAfee. He hit his his first attempt with at least five yards to spare. He pushed his second kick wide left, but that may have had even more distance behind it. It's extremely rare for a team to run into a situation where a 60-yard field actually makes sense, but if it ever happens, count on McAfee attempting it. He can make these kicks.
- Justice Cunningham sealed it. This was officially "Tight End Week" at the Colts training camp. All of them, including Dominique Jones, looked good in their own ways. Cunningham has actually impressed me more with his pass-catching skills than with his blocking, and he was sold as a specialist on the latter coming in. His route running and pass catching make him look like a much more complete player. And the funny thing is that Cunningham doesn't look like he should be able to move like he does. One of my friends asked yesterday who the offensive lineman was that just caught a touchdown. He was talking about Cunningham. Chuck Pagano has been paying attention to Cunningham too, saying at today's press conference, "He's come a long way from day one...you can see marked improvement every day." Cunningham will be fun to watch during the preseason. He could be one of the stars of a few games considering the amount of time he will be on the field.
- Bjoern Werner finished the week off well. He's consistently looked good in individual drills, beating Justin Anderson over and over with ease. It's obvious that he has the power and skills to hold his own against players better than that. I can't say much about him during 11-on-11 drills because it is so easy to lose sight of players in the scrum, but he looks good to go whenever I can isolate him. At the very least, Jerry Hughes never had this many positive signs in his first training camp. The arrow is pointing up for Werner.
- Anthony Castonzo has been invisible for most of the week. He's at the one position where that's probably a good thing. I haven't noticed much activity in the backfield coming from his side of the line whenever Andrew Luck drops back to pass. Considering his weakness has always been his pass protection, this is great to see. One play this morning went away from that. On an isolated 1-on-1 pass rush, Robert Mathis spun so quickly that it left Castonzo grasping at air. Castonzo was hard on himself for it, hitting himself in the helmet and dropping an F Bomb. But otherwise, he's been great. As of right now, I think Castonzo is just an average left tackle in the NFL, so this will be a big year to see if he can make a significant jump and prove he's a great one.
- Finally, I have something to say on Lawrence Sidbury in these posts. He ran a few snaps with the first-team defense today in a stand-up 'Joker' role. He would walk around the line of scrimmage, trying to confuse the quarterback and make him question what Sidbury was trying to do. He didn't manage to do any noticeable damage when he rushed from that position, but it's another situational role to add to this defense.
- T.Y. Hilton had disappeared slightly since the beginning of the week, but he bounced back today. I especially liked a touchdown grab he made at the side of the end zone where he snagged the ball high out of the air and then managed to get his feet down in bounds while he was falling. Overall, he had a good week and proved he'll still have a big role in this offense. His hands look slightly more consistent too, at least in practice.
- Reggie Wayne can still beat the defense deep. He's done it at least two or three times throughout this week. That's the one part of his game that you could worry would disappear with age. It doesn't look like it will be this year.
- Griff Whalen is still holding on occasional field goals. He looks fine doing it. His receiving is starting to come back down to Earth, but he's still making the occasional catch that makes you say "Find a spot for this guy on the team now." After hearing Pagano say yesterday that Whalen is making himself "necessary", I find it hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn't make the final roster. He showing off too many skills to send him packing.
- Andrew Luck went 23 of 29 with three touchdowns and no interceptions. George Bremer had him down with 14 straight completions at one point. Yep, he's a stud. He's going to be a great quarterback this year and improve in so many different ways now that his weapons and his offensive line have gotten better as well. My suggestion is to get some Colts players on your fantasy teams. They had a top-10 offense last year. I would be surprised at this point if it wasn't a top-5 unit this year.
- Joe Reitz was the only player who came away with an injury from this practice. Pagano said it was just a stinger and that Reitz would be back soon. Through one week of practice, the Colts have only had to put two players on IR (Brandon McKinney and Scott Lutrus). That's it as far as long-term injuries go. Martin Tevaseu returned to practice today after sitting out the last few days with a right shoulder issue. Hugh Thornton is out of his boot and is expected back next week. Khaled Holmes has taken over boot duties instead, but he should at least be ready to go in a few weeks. LaVon Brazill, Mario Harvey, Daniel Adongo, and Sergio Brown are all sitting out with minor injuries. Greg Toler's concussion may be the most concerning issue right now, but since he doesn't have a history there and it's still the beginning of training camp, the coaching staff doesn't have to rush him back too quickly. Usually the sky is falling with injuries by this point, so you couldn't ask for a much better week in that department.