I asked T.Y. Hilton today how good he thought this Colts offense could really be, considering all of the players in it who were going into their second NFL season. Tony Dungy has said many times before that a player's sophomore campaign is usually when they improve the most.
Hilton gave the ho-hum answer you would expect. It was obvious he didn't want to set expectations too high.
No matter. He and his teammates are setting the expectations anyway on the field through the first three days of training camp.
Here's my thoughts after watching the afternoon practice.
- One media member asked after practice if anyone else thought Coby Fleener had done well today. "Um, yes" was the consensus. In the four touchdowns Luck threw today, Fleener had the best grab, rotating his hips around to snag the pass away from his body and the defender. Earlier, he brought in a jumping catch along the sidelines and made the two defenders around him look useless in trying to stop it. And in the middle of both of those, he beat LaRon Landry deep and brought in a long pass from Luck that would have resulted in an 80-yard TD. And the best part? No drops. Fleener isn't showing too much during blocking drills, but his receiving skills have been dynamic.
- And the Griff Whalen hype train just keeps on chugging along. Whalen made a few decent receptions throughout most of the practice, but he never did anything to really 'wow' me until the very end. Within the span of three plays, Whalen brought in two touchdowns in the back corner of the end zone off fade routes. He had to tap his toes in and secure the catch each time with defenders right behind him. Both were tough catches to make, but it just ends up looking routine for him. If you have any doubts about what Whalen is doing, all you have to do is look at what LaVon Brazill did a couple plays later, dropping simple catches with no one around him. There's a pretty distinct difference. Whalen was even used as a holder for Adam Vinatieri field goals, as Tyler Brooke pointed out. In the long run, he'll have to contribute on special teams as the fourth or fifth WR to be useful to the team. It might as well be something like holding.
- Hey look, some actual news about the defense! I watched Bjoern Werner often whenever he was on the field, and he didn't disappoint. He beat Justin Anderson in about a second on two straight plays during 1-on-1 rushing drills and was difficult to contain for anyone else he lined up against, including Anthony Castonzo. He even had some success against Gosder Cherilus later on in practice. But the most interesting thing about Werner is that I just don't see Erik Walden on the field with the 1s that much anymore. Granted, most of those plays are during passing downs. But when Robert Mathis is on the field, Werner is almost always right there playing opposite of him. Even if there will be a pass/run down rotation between them, Werner looks like the current starter to me, not Walden.
- Delone Carter looks bound for the chopping block. He is almost exclusively playing with the third team, and he's not exactly impressing while he's there. He managed to drop one of the easiest passes of the day on a screen to the right side of the field. While someone like rookie Kerwynn Williams is showing his speed off in both RB and special teams drills, Carter isn't standing out.
- I haven't talked about him much, but Chandler Harnish is having a strong camp. He often makes some good throws, like his beautiful pass today down the sidelines to Rodrick Rumble, who beat Allen Chapman over the top. But he also has a good command of the offense and can run well when he has to. I think he Colts like Harnish as a backup QB that can be used to scout read-option offenses, so I see him staying on the roster throughout the season.
- Darrius Heyward-Bey had his best day of camp. Why? Because he only had one drop. Beyond that, he didn't make any obvious mistakes and connected with Luck a few times. Small steps, but that's good enough to say that his arrow is pointing up.
- Lanear Sampson seems to have supplanted Nathan Palmer on the depth chart. He was running with the second-team offense today while Palmer was running with the third.
- As I alluded to earlier, Brazill is struggling. He dropped two easy passes in practice and noticeably cringed after one of them. He had the worst day out of all the wide receivers.
- Vontae Davis was the best cornerback on the field today. He broke up several passes and even made an interception on Luck that mirrored his second pick from the Houston game in Week 17 last year. Great ball recognition on his part. And its a good sign for the Colts hopes of increasing their defensive turnover count when their top four CBs - Davis, Darius Butler, Greg Toler and Cassius Vaughn - have each made multiple plays on the ball through the first three days of camp.
- It's incredibly easy to miss any of the undrafted rookie defensive backs right now, which includes Dax Swanson, Allen Chapman and Sheldon Price. In fact, there isn't much to say about any defensive backs outside of the first four cornerbacks and Joe Lefeged, who made some good recognition plays in coverage today during red zone drills. Landry will likely show up once the real hitting starts, but he already has one strike against him in pass defense, allowing Fleener to easily get by him for the long touchdown I mentioned earlier.
- Rookie DL Montori Hughes may have just been filling in for injured NTs Brandon McKinney and Martin Tevaseu, but he still managed to get some first-team reps during drills. I didn't notice much on him besides that, but if you read into that tidbit enough, he must be impressing the coaches.
- Justice Cunningham was impressive during blocking drills today. He wasn't Dwayne Allen, but he was closer than any other tight end.
- Speaking of Allen, he's so good at everything that it's becoming routine. Making an athletic catch high in the air? Meh. How about stoning every defender in blocking drills? Ho-hum. I thought Allen was a Pro Bowl tight end last year. He's giving every sign that he will be one in 2013.
- OLB Josh McNary was activated off the reserve/military list and participated in drills today, forcing the Colts to cut LB C.O. Prime...until McKinney was later placed on IR, and the Colts politely asked for a mulligan so they could bring Prime back. I didn't notice anything from McNary.
- Finally, I'll end on Luck. He had his best day of camp, going 22-33 with four touchdowns and one interception. Truthfully, he should almost be credited with another INT since he threw it directly into Butler's hands, where it was dropped. But otherwise, Luck threw smart passes and hit his downfield targets more than he had before today. A lot of those incompletions were the receiver's fault and not his. Either way, it's easy to see the day-to-day progress the offense is making as a whole. The first scrimmage should be a fun one.
Maybe the best part about training camp so far is the temperature hasn't risen above 80 degrees. I'm fine with it staying that way.
As always, make sure you follow me on Twitter each practice (@andrewmishler) for notes and observations. The Colts practice again tomorrow at 1:50-4:30.