One of the beautiful things about this Colts training camp after one week is how almost every player that needed to prove something, actually has.
That's especially true on offense. Between the more established players like Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen (who is already close to being an elite tight end), the three listed below all looked like the most improved offense players last week.
And just as a note, I didn't include Andrew Luck in this because 1) It should be obvious that he's getting better, and 2) We're planning on doing a larger article on how he's improved in the near future. Be patient.
Coby Fleener, TE
For the past two years, Jerry Hughes showed signs of turning a corner during training camp. I had a lot of hopes that the was going to become the fierce pass rusher he was sold as when the Colts drafted him.
We all know what happened with that.
Last week, someone on Twitter said they feared hopping on the Fleener bandwagon now because of what happened before with Hughes. Well, there are a few reasons to believe Fleener's situation is different.
Pass rushing is difficult to judge during training camp. Sometimes, you just can't be sure how hard someone is going, or what the purpose of the drill is, or if the QB could have avoided a "sack" if he had really tried. Catching passes, on the other hand, is pretty concrete. Did he drop it? How difficult was the catch? Did he create his own separation?
Fleener has been consistent with his catches all throughout training camp, no matter the difficulty. He's been especially impressive on high catches that force him to show off his leaping ability and on red zone receptions. There's been a few drops in between all of that, but Fleener also had some of the most targets throughout each practice. And his size and speed allow him to separate better than almost any other player.
It doesn't look like blocking will ever be a strong part of Fleener's game. He doesn't have the body type to deal with talented linebackers and consistently seal them out of plays or keep them away from the quarterback. But that wasn't why he was drafted in the first place. His receiving skills were. And through one week, those skills look dynamic.
Back in May, Chuck Pagano said Fleener's receptions from 2012 could double in 2013, putting him at 52 catches. After seeing how much more involved Fleener is with the passing offense in training camp, Pagano's prediction seems almost easy to meet. It may just depend on health and how much Allen is used as a receiver.
The bottom line is that unlike Jerry Hughes, Fleener is playing extensively with the first team and looking good while doing it. He also is receiving praise for everyone who watches him. You can just see the kind of jump he's made.
We all know he still has to make it transfer it to games. But I think we have enough to go on from his rookie season to be confident that will happen.
Griff Whalen, WR
At this point, I almost feel like I should be selling Griff Whalen merchandise. Whalen jerseys, FatHeads, maybe bobbleheads. Every practice last week, it was like my eyes were just drawn to what he was doing on the field.
I'm willing to say Whalen is a near clone of Austin Collie, at least in practice. They both wear No. 17. They both hardly ever drop anything. They both seemingly have the same easy-going mannerisms and attitude. And yes, admittedly, they're both white.
But Whalen really does look like a player who could make positive contributions to the team. If you remember, Collie and Andrew Luck were in sync all throughout last offseason. Before the Luck to Wayne connection was established, it was 12 to 17, all the time. That's partly because Collie was a talented receiver, but it was also because his hands were incredibly reliable and he knew how to get open as an underneath possession receiver.
Whalen has been that kind of receiver throughout camp. His thrives off of running slant routes over the middle of the field and, more surprisingly, fade routes in the end zone. I saw him catch three touchdowns last week on fades. For being one of the tougher catches to make in football, Whalen has made it look simple, at least in a small sample size.
What may separate Whalen from the other receivers on the roster is his possession receiver qualities. No one on the team outside of Reggie Wayne has better hands than him. Given that the Colts already have a No. 1 wideout in Wayne and three burners in Darrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill, Whalen's addition to the core group would give them more options on offense.
Say the Colts are facing a crucial third-and-seven late in a game. They decide to run an empty backfield play with five wide receivers. Given the first four would probably include a combination of Wayne, DHB, Hilton, Allen and Fleener, would you want Whalen or Brazill in that last receiver spot? Even if he hasn't had any regular-season experience, give me Whalen every time.
Whalen finished the first week with a few drops and made less noise than he did in the first few practices. That shouldn't take much away from the overall impact he's making so far. His receiving skills and special teams abilities make it almost a certainty that he'll be on the opening-day roster and possibly contributing throughout the year.
Anthony Castonzo, OT
Remember this guy? The Colts first round pick from two years ago and the starting left tackle. Somehow, Castonzo has managed to have a fairly anonymous training camp thanks to some pretty steady pass blocking.
Even with Robert Mathis rushing from the right side occasionally, Castonzo has held his own and arguably has been the most consistent offensive lineman throughout camp. Donald Thomas is the only other player who could compete for that title.
This is a huge year for Castonzo. He needs to start proving that he can grow with Luck as a great-to-elite left tackle for years to come. But that will only happen if he cuts down on the pressures, hits and sacks he gives up and improves his pass blocking. The hard truth is that his protection of the quarterback over the last two years has been below average. That's not the type of player that gets re-signed when you have a franchise QB in the making and need to keep him healthy.
The first week of training camp gave a few signs that Castonzo was turning that corner. If the Colts offensive line really is something to still worry about this season, as Tyler wrote in this article, Castonzo is the least of my concerns among the five starting players. He's someone who every Colts fan should be anxious to see improve.