It's interesting to see how players develop day-by-day throughout training camp. Some of them begin to really come around as the week progresses, and others fade back into the pack after having strong starts.
It's the nature of not only training camp, but maybe football in general. Players are always either getting better or getting worse, even if that's a day-to-day up and down experience. That's why it's tough to put too much stock in each individual practice, possibly contrary to how much detail I put into these reports each day. You have to see some trends before you can really start to make some hard judgements.
Fortunately, that's starting to happen as we near the end of the first week for the Colts training camp. The one thing I know I can take away so far is that this team is easily more talented than it was a year ago. New players have emerged via free agency, and younger players are getting better and better all the time. It's fun to watch that mold together into one talented NFL team.
Anyway, here are (shout-out to GigmanX) my thoughts after watching the afternoon practice:
- Time to give credit where it's due. For as much as Darrius Heyward-Bey was the goat of the first three days of training camp, he's come alive over the last two. Today wasn't even about a deep pass or a real 'wow' moment. DHB was just consistent. He caught the easy passes and he caught the difficult ones. He ran fluid routes over the middle of the field and separated well from opposing cornerbacks, which sometimes ended up being 2nd teamers depending on the drill. On one play, he ran a fantastic comeback route and created what looked like 10 yards of separation from the defensive back. He was about as open as you could possibly be after only a few seconds since the snap. Chuck Pagano seems impressed with DHB as well, mentioning how he had a good day to start his press conference today before answering a question about him:
He's really had two back-to-back really good days. Like anything else, you make a catch here, you make a catch there, and yesterday starting with a big play, and so I think from he's just starting to obviously feel more comfortable in the offense terminology-wise. All the play calls, things like that. He's making plays, whether it's big plays down the field (or) underneath. So I think from a confidence standpoint, a mental standpoint, he's just getting more comfortable. And obviously the chemistry is starting to grow between him and Luck.
- Vontae Davis has really turned it up over the last two practices, similar to DHB. He intercepted Andrew Luck on a deep sideline pass intended for T.Y. Hilton and had coverage on all the receivers he faced throughout practice. He usually was the only cornerback that gave DHB problems. Pagano said after practice that he likes how well the top four or five cornerbacks are playing, and I agree with him. Davis in particular has looked like a No. 1 corner over the last few days.
- Not a good practice for Matt Hasselbeck, verging on horrible. He floated a few of his passes, one getting picked off over the middle by safety Delano Howell, and many of his other throws just weren't catchable. I have no idea what his final numbers were, but I know they couldn't have been good. He's been fine through the first four practices, but his play took a nosedive today. Considering he's a veteran, who as Luck put it, "has seen everything," I don't think there's anything to worry about. Everybody has bad practices at some point. This one was just noteworthy because the Colts are one injury away from him being the starting quarterback. In case you forgot.
- Luck once again had a pretty good day, going 18 of 32 with a touchdown to Reggie Wayne and an interception to Davis. I'll give credit to the cornerbacks playing some great coverage throughout the day on receivers and tight ends not named Darrius Heyward-Bey and Reggie Wayne. They won a lot of battles. But Luck fought through it and made some gorgeous passes. Nothing too out of the ordinary at this point.
- I continue to see a wide variety of formations that move the receivers all over the field. Sometimes Dwayne Allen goes wide on the left side while Wayne moves to the slot on the right. Other times, Coby Fleener may line up as an in-line tight end while DHB moves into the slot and Hilton goes out wide. Anything works, apparently. This team wants to move it's pieces around and create mismatches on every single play. I really think that may be the theme for the season on offense.
- Howell isn't a name I've mentioned at all this week, and that may be wrong on my part. He's been running with the second unit through five practices and finally stepped up among the group of no-name defensive backs and made good plays on the ball today. I don't think that John Boyett will play at all this season, so there is a gaping hole available as the fourth safety on the roster after Antoine Bethea, LaRon Landry and Joe Lefeged. Count me in as someone who thinks that spot will go to Howell, narrowly beating out Larry Asante, who also made some good plays in coverage today.
- Vick Ballard wasn't given many opportunities to catch passes last year in Bruce Arians' offense, outside of that one play in the game at Tennessee, but he's showing off some soft hands this week. I've especially liked his ability to bring in some deep passes like he was playing wide receiver. He, Stanley Havili and Kerwynn Williams have all been impressive catching the ball out the backfield, which is good considering they'll likely be asked to do that more often this year.
- Bethea was once again absent from this practice, tending to his wife and newborn. Can't fault him there. Pagano said he should be back at the facilities by tonight and ready to go for tomorrow's practice.
- T Bradley Sowell, for the second time this during training camp, caught a pass and scored. The first time was on a fake FG in the first practice that was off a pass from Pat McAfee. This time, the team went for two after a touchdown pass to Kerwynn Williams, and Hasselback found Sowell in the back of the end zone on a fade (!). I think that seals it. Sowell is the new Dan Klecko. Hell, sine the Colts are so obsessed with moving players around on offense, they might as well try Sowell at slot receiver and see what happens.
- Delone Carter saw a play with the first-team offense during a red zone drill. Luck threw it to him out of the backfield and he nearly got into the end zone before Vontae Davis stopped him short. I don't think Carter has had a good camp, so I found it interesting that he still was getting involved with the first team.
- Gosder Cherilus is starting to concern me. Whenever I look at where the pressure is coming from during light scrimmages, it seems to from his side. Mathis and Werner both seem to be having success there, culminating with a Mathis "sack" today. I can't be completely sure of this observation, though. Sometimes it's just hard to see what's going on down there. But it's something to keep in mind.
- Kelvin Sheppard is starting to play ahead of Kavell Conner with the first-team defense. I can't say much about it because I haven't noticed him beyond an interception that he almost pulled in off a tip from the defensive line. It bounced around in his hands three times before hitting the ground. Pushups followed.
- I love whenever I see a player who I don't recognize make a play. I have to quickly get out my roster sheet and figure out why I haven't noticed him before. That happened with Caesar Rayford today. The 6'7, 267 pound linebacker has a ton of athleticism and really stood out during pass rushing drills today. He disappeared going into 11-on-11 drills, but I'm still enamored by his frame and quickness off the snap. Justin Hickman is not a sure thing to make the roster, so Rayford may be a player who could challenge him for a spot.
- Adam Vinatieri took over for rookie Brandon McManus on field goal kicks today. I had him down for 8 of 9 on his attempts, with one going slightly too far to the right. He was on the opposite side of the field from me, so it's hard to say how long his kicks were. But I'm sure at least two were between 50-55 yards, and all of his kicks traveled well beyond the goal posts. If anything, it didn't make me worry about any decline in his range.
- This was a pretty limited observation, but it's easy to see why Ben Ijalana was such a highly-rated prospect coming out. His feet are still very quick and he has great size. He did well in pass protection drills. Still, he's running with the third team behind Sowell and Emmett Cleary. If that keeps up, I don't see why he would make the team.
- Griff Whalen was a little rough today, dropping his first pass of the camp. He didn't seem as comfortable as he usually is. He still made some nice catches though on the Hasselbeck passes that were catchable, and he even saw some more time with the 1s on offense.
- Jeremy Kelley stood out once again. His size advantage over all the small defensive backs at the back end of the roster has turned him into one of Chandler Harnish's favorite targets. Unreliable hands usually come with being a tall wide receiver, but I haven't noticed any issues in that department from Kelley yet. With Nathan Palmer having another good practice himself, this wide receiver battle is getting intense. Depending on what happens during the preseason, there are going to be some hard wide receiver cuts to make.
- We have an updated injury report. Pagano said Greg Toler's concussion is "not really serious" and they'll wait until he gets clearance, just like during the regular season. Daniel Adongo did not "practice" today due to a bicep issue he had before he signed. Pagano said that wasn't serious either and there wasn't any reason to rush him. Hugh Thornton was out of his boot today. Pagano expects him to return to action next week. Khaled Holmes will likely need a little more time than that with his ankle injury before he's ready. Other players who sat out practice: LaVon Brazill, Mario Harvey and Sergio Brown.
- Finally, in case you didn't see the roster moves from earlier, the Colts waived/injured LB Scott Lutrus and signed C Thomas Austin. They also waived G Robert Griffin and signed OL Danous Estenor. The offensive line has been hit more than any other position by injuries, so the Colts obviously needed to make some moves there. Griffin looked out of place with the offensive line yesterday, so I'm not surprised to see him let go.