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Camp breaks today... so, what did we learn?

Tony Romo screams like a little girl as Ed Johnson moves in to give him a bear hug.
Photo (cropped):
It's really hard to believe that camp is wrapping up, but here we are. With Training Camp breaking today and the second pre-season game gearing up between the Colts and the Bears, we start looking at what we learned from Training Camp. I'm always a big fan of TC. A good TC can mean good things for your team down the road. I also firmly believe in competition at TC. If a QB showed up at camp and started making Peyton Manning look like Vince Young, I'd expect the Colts to consider playing the kid over Manning.

Competition of this sort helped Indy win it all last season. During 2006's TC, Antoine Bethea, a 6th round rookie no one had heard of, beat out an established and proven veteran (Mike Doss) to claim the starting safety position. Bethea was amazing all season, and was even better in the playoffs. Last year, Jason David was pushed by both Marlin Jackson while Nick Harper was pushed by Kelvin Hayden. Result: Harper and David had great years.

A player's contract or where he was drafted should have nothing to do with whether he starts or sits. He must earn the playing spot. Teams that play players because of contracts are BAD TEAMS. If the player doesn't earn his spot in Training Camp, he has no business starting. That said, here's some of the things we learned:

  • Despite the loss of Anthony "Booger" McFarland for the season, the Colts were not hit with the same annoying, puss-infected rash of injuries they normally get hit with during TC. And, as stupid and crazy as this sounds, Booger's injury might be a blessing in disguise. Guys like Ed Johnson and Quinn Pitcock have gotten more time with the starting defensive units, and they have performed well. I also wouldn't be surprised if the Colts sign someone like Tank Johnson or Gerard Warren (once he's cut because no one is stupid enough to trade for him), shoring up their DT position with some great depth. Don't expect a trade though, ala last year. Bill Polian has all but rule it out.
  • Anthony Gonzalez is outstanding, and looks the best of all the rookie WRs I've seen thus far. Dwayne Bowe and Robert Meachum better be all world, because Gonzo looks about as polished a rookie receiver as I've seen since a young guy named Marvin Harrison was drafted late in the first round in 1996. He runs great routes, works his butt off, and asks a ton of questions. I get the feeling, after watching them in person and seeing them in the first pre-season game, that Manning likes this kid.
  • Freddie Keiaho is a beast, but needs to pace himself. He's clearly beaten out anyone that would challenge him for the starting WILL linebacker. He looks so much better than Cato June you have to wonder why he didn't start over June last year, especially after that nightmarish Jacksonville game. Freddie has a tendency to go 100% all the time, and while that sounds "Hell Yeah!" to us fans, from a conditioning standpoint, Freddie needs to pace himself. He's been held out of practices because he's been going too hard. Despite this, I'm watching this kid close. He's got some serious upside.
  • The back-up RB position is wide open, as it should be. DeDe Dorsey had an opportunity to solidify his hold on it against Dallas, but 15 yards on 6 carries isn't going to help you. Kenton Keith has been hurt most of camp, but is now healthy. If he has a great pre-season game against the Bears, he might win that back-up job. Also, there's Clifton Dawson, who has shown some burst. I get a feeling that the back that pass protects the best will get the spot. As bad as Dom Rhodes was last regular season running the ball, he was a stud in pass protection. Dungy is looking for blocking skills more so than running.
  • Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney want to destroy opposing defenses, proving doubters wrong about their worth. However, whether they like it or not, they are now the leaders (along with captain Gary Brackett) of this defense. Sanders relishes a leadership role, but it's hard to lead when you're hurt. For two of his three active seasons, Bob has been hurt most of the time. He needs to stay healthy for a full season this year if he wants to lead (and get a big payday). Freeney has always  run away from the leadership role, passing it on to guys like McFarland and even Corey Simon when he was here. Now that Dwight makes more money than any other defensive player in the league, he needs to step it up as a leader. I love "Dwight the Fright," and I was very happy to see him at mini-camp helping rookies even though he wasn't under contract, but now that he's making the big moola he needs to start taking on more leadership. Guys look up to him, and he's certainly hungry to prove doubters wrong. We're starting to see more leadership from him, which is a positive sign.
  • Special Teams coverage has improved, and TJ Rushing is developing into a weapon as a returner.
    TJ Rushing has clearly won the starting returning job
    Photo (cropped):

    Last year, I was one of the few fans happy to see  Troy Walters not get re-signed. Why? Because he sucked as a returner. Some fans (like MasterRWayne) would counter and say Wait a minute! He never fumbled a return or botched a field. My response was always: Great! That's what he's supposed to do. A returner that fumbles or botches his returns should be CUT. It's the most basic thing he can do. If the problem is systemic for all the returners, cut them all and then fire the ST coach. I expect my team's returners to actually do something once they field the return. Last year, Terrence Wilkins won the first Jacksonville game with his return for a TD. His returns all season were a big improvement over Walters. This year, it looks like Rushing will produce more than Terrence did.

  • The biggest question in camp, the one everyone and they mamma was asking, was "Who replaces Tarik Glenn?" The answer is Tony Ugoh, and with each practice Ugoh has gotten better and better. This kid has some serious skills. He's quick, athletic, and even keeled. Things don't seem to rattle him, which is good. Against Dallas in the pre-season game, he went up against a team that blitzes more linebackers than Jerry Glanville hopped up on amphetamines. Yet, despite this, he did a good job. I'm not worried about this kid at all. He'll be rough at first, and against certain teams he'll struggle. But, in the end, he'll replace Tarik Glenn. He just seems to have it mentally, which will help him more than his great physical skills.
That's just the tip of the iceberg folks. I haven't talked about the corners, who is starting in the secondary, who is in the nickel, and all the competition on the ST units. That's for later. If you read Bill Polian's quotes closely, you can tell he is happy with this team.  They have several players they like, and they are agonizing over who to cut in nine days.

For some fun comparisons with last season, here's what I wrote near the close of last year's TC:

When it is all tallied, the Colts could have four new starters on defense (Robert Mathis, Gilbert Gardner, Marlin Jackson, Antoine Bethea), three on offense (Dominic Rhodes, Ben Utecht, Dylan Gandy), and one on special teams (Adam Vinatieri). All these players, with the exception of Rhodes, are better players than the guys they may replace.
Hilarious that, in the end, Gardner ended up sucking and Dom Rhodes was better in the playoffs than Edgerrin James ever was. This year, the turnover is about the same. On defense, the Colts will have four new starters (Ed Johnson, Marlin Jackson, Kelvin Hayden, Freddie Keiaho), two on offense (Tony Ugoh and Joseph Addai) and one on special teams (TJ Rushing).

Exciting indeed!