The weather was perfect today in Anderson, Indiana, and the day was made even better by the sights on the practice field at Anderson University - Colts football is back!
With a good crowd of Colts faithful watching, the Colts took the field in just shells, but wearing that horseshoe on the helmets. There was the return of Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen, Donald Thomas, and Vick Ballard. There was the sight of Andrew Luck throwing the football again. There were some standout plays and players, and some who stood out for the wrong things. It was the first day of Colts camp, and so it was a good day. Let's just jump right to the notebook today and look at several of the things I jotted down during camp today.
- Welcome back, Reggie Wayne. When the six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver first took the field in practice today, he was greeted by a loud cheer from the fans watching. Reggie responded with a fist pump toward the crowd, and it was just great to see number 87 out there again for the Colts after he tore his ACL in the fourth quarter of the week seven win over the Broncos last year. Of course, Reggie's first actual route of the day that he ran ended in a dropped pass, but it was his first day back, so let's cut him some slack. After that drop, however, he looked exactly like the Reggie of old. When the rest of the receivers were running routes and catching passes from the quarterbacks in an organized team drill, Reggie was running routes and catching passes one-on-one from Andrew Luck, who was rotating between the team drill and Reggie's drill. Then, a bit later in the offense-defense drill, the play of the day for the offense involved Wayne. Reggie ran down the left sideline, covered by Darius Butler. Luck let go a perfect pass that went right over Butler's head/arms and into Reggie's hands. It was beautiful, and it showed something that I saw as practice went on, too: Luck and Reggie have their timing down, despite the fact that Reggie missed half of last season. It was great just because Reggie Wayne was back on the field today, but it was even better because he looked really good. Granted, he did appear to be limited a bit, as in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 it seemed like Reggie wasn't in as much, but that's to be expected.
- The star of the day? Probably T.Y. Hilton. Hilton was all over today. According to George Bremer, Hilton had 10 catches with the first team offense, leading the way. His timing with Andrew Luck appears even better than that of Reggie Wayne and the quarterback, which is saying a lot. Hilton made plenty of great plays, but his best one today came on a pass that, ironically, was a bad one from Luck. Luck underthrew Hilton on a deep sideline route, and Greg Toler got in front of the receiver and tipped the pass up in the air. Toler fell down and Hilton grabbed the pass out of the air on the tip before tripping over Toler. It was an impressive that Hilton didn't give up on the play and made a nice catch too.
- Greg Toler: Speaking of Greg Toler, I actually thought he had nice coverage today. I thought he looked good and he was playing the number one corner spot because Vontae Davis wasn't practicing. Toler looked pretty good, I thought.
- Bjoern Werner had himself a very nice day as well. Seeing increased snaps because of Robert Mathis's impending suspension, Werner had a couple of passes batted at the line of scrimmage that ended in two pick-sixes for the defense. On the first, Werner batted Luck's pass at the line and then picked it off before lateraling to D'Qwell Jackson for the score. On the other, he batted a Matt Hasslebeck pass to Cory Redding, who took it to the end zone to score. Interestingly, it seemed like Werner was often playing with his hand in the ground at essentially a defensive end position. I wonder if that's why Werner showed such good burst, pass deflecting skills, and good pass rush overall? Either way, Werner had a good day and whatever the Colts were doing with Werner today looked like it was working - something to keep watching.
- OLB Balance: Along those same lines, the Colts have a very interesting balance that they are trying to find right now with Werner and Mathis. Mathis won't play the first four games, but he'll be back after that, so he does need to get work in camp. But Werner needs work as well, and he'll be starting the first four games and playing a lot after that too. Today, the Colts played Werner with the first team defense and he got a lot of snaps there, while Mathis subbed in some with the first team and played some with the second team too. We'll see how they continue to handle that.
- Dwayne Allen is back! It was also great to see Dwayne Allen back, and it's clear that he's going to be a major part in the offense. His first big play of the day came early, in position drills, when he was covered by Delano Howell. Howell had great coverage on the play and was all over Allen - but the big tight end still hauled in the pass for a great catch. He had a couple of nice catches today and showed the receiving potential that he has, and he was in on most of the first team offense's snaps.
- Punt Returners: Because the kick and punt return spots are really undecided right now, we're paying close attention to those. Today, Griff Whalen, Donte Moncrief, Chris Rainey, Ryan Lankford, and T.Y. Hilton all spent time returning and fielding punts. Interestingly, however, the first four I mentioned were the ones working during practice during the punt team session while Hilton was on the sidelines with guys like Reggie Wayne, Trent Richardson, and others, just watching. The only time Hilton fielded punts was before practice started. It's something to watch, but the job might not be given to Hilton as automatically as we thought entering camp. Again, it might be nothing, but it appears that the Colts still might not want to use Hilton as punt returner. Something to pay attention to.
- Adam Vinatieri had a bit of a rough day, hitting from 23, 28, 33, 41, and 43 yards out but missing from 38, 48, and 48 yards. That said, later on in practice, he hit the practice-ending field goal. The Colts had 18 seconds on the clock and no timeouts, and Luck and the offense hurried and completed a pass before frantically running off as the field goal unit frantically scrambled on, getting the kick off with about 2 seconds left on the clock and making it, ending practice. There's nothing to worry about with Vinatieri. Nothing.
- Mario Harvey definitely looks the part at fullback. But it's clear that he's a blocking fullback, not a receiving fullback. He had a couple of drops on easy passes today. With the team only in shells we weren't able to really see what Harvey can bring to the table, but we knew coming in that he's a blocking fullback while Stanley Havili is a receiving fullback. With the plethora of receiving targets for the Colts at receiver and tight end, the need for a receiving fullback is diminished - which favors Harvey. We'll be watching him more as contact begins to ramp up a bit.
- Impressive Receivers? Another, besides Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, who looked good today was Eric Thomas. Thomas had a great fake on a route that left Colt Anderson completely clueless, and then later in practice he made a couple grabs. Also, it seemed like Josh Lenz saw quite a bit of reps today, so it seems that the team likes him too.
- The Griffer! Of course, we'd be remiss to have a training camp article talking receivers without talking about Griff Whalen, who picked up right where he left off last year in camp by catching everything thrown his way. He had a couple of nice grabs and a couple of nice routes run. Basically, Whalen was very impressive once again. And as I was watching him, I was thinking about how the Colts absolutely can find and create ways to use him and his skills to help them in games. He doesn't have the athleticism or natural ability as some of the other guys, but if the Colts really want to use him, they absolutely can and he'd succeed. It's just that they'd need to utilize certain routes to help him get open - because if he's anywhere close to open and the pass is thrown anywhere near him, he's gonna catch it.
- Center Update: Jonotthan Harrison had a rough day today, with a fumbled exchange between him and Chandler Harnish and then a few plays later a low snap to Harnish. It was a little rough. As for the center position, early on in practice Khaled Holmes, Harrison, FN Lutz, and Jack Mewhort worked on snapping, which was interesting considering the fact that the Colts wanted to start Mewhort off playing guard. Later on in the 11-on-11 part of practice, Donald Thomas was playing with the second team and Matt Hasslebeck at center some, which was also interesting. Basically, what I gathered is that the Colts will figure to keep just one center on the team and will try to make sure that guys like Mewhort and Thomas have experience snapping in case they're needed - much like Mike McGlynn did last year.
- The least impressive player of the day? Da'Rick Rogers. The most impressive player of the day was a receiver (T.Y. Hilton), though there were several good options to choose from. The least impressive player of the day was also a receiver, and this time it was a pretty easy call to make - it was Da'Rick Rogers. A fan-favorite who struggled with his route running and was raw last season, Rogers had a terrible start to camp today. In wide receiver drills he dropped two passes, although one of them could have been placed on Andrew Luck - especially considering the quarterback's reaction to the throw (he wasn't happy). Still, with no defense, I thought it was one an NFL receiver could have made, but that might be too harsh. Either way, he had another bad drop. Then, in team drills later on, Rogers dropped a pass that he had to reach up to try to grab, and he looked a little shaken up after doing so, though nothing major. Also, there were a couple of times where I was specifically watching Rogers (to see if his route running has improved at all, because if not he might very well not make the roster), but I couldn't tell because he hardly ran at all. He was essentially just walking because the play was going to the other side of the field. I didn't want to be too hard on Rogers, though, so I started paying closer attention to the other receivers to see if they were doing the same, and it was clear that they weren't. Everybody was giving their all on almost every play, but multiple times Rogers was doing little more than walking when the play wasn't to him. He was acting like he was guaranteed a roster spot, and if he keeps acting like that, he's going to be looking for another team. Look, it's just one practice. DON'T OVERREACT. But based on one day, Da'Rick Rogers has had a rough start to camp.
- Let's talk lineups. It's just the first day of camp, I get it, but let's talk about who was working with the first team offense and defense today. First, the offense. Anthony Castonzo, Donald Thomas, Khaled Holmes, Hugh Thornton, and Gosder Cherilus were the first team offensive line, which was no surprise - but it was really great to see Thomas out there working. Dwayne Allen was clearly the first team tight end, but when running a two tight end offense Coby Fleener was in there too. When in a two tight end set, it was Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton on the field at receiver. Trent Richardson was the first team running back and, when the team used a fullback, it was Mario Harvey, of course. Oh, and Andrew Luck was the first team QB. Defensively, the first team defensive line seemed to most often be (and there was much more shuffling on defense than there was on offense in terms of who was out there with first team) Cory Redding, Josh Chapman, and Arthur Jones. At linebacker, it was Jerrell Freeman and D'Qwell Jackson inside and Bjoern Werner and Erik Walden were outside linebackers - though, as mentioned, Mathis was in there some. Greg Toler and Darius Butler were the two first team cornerbacks with Vontae Davis out, and with LaRon Landry out today Delano Howell and Sergio Brown were the two first team safeties. Mike Adams worked with the second team, which is understandable considering he's been with the team for much less time, and both Howell and Brown actually looked pretty good at safety today.
- DNP: The only players not practicing today, other than Stanley Havili (who is on the PUP list), were safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Vontae Davis. All three of those players were on the far practice field doing some running and basic drills during practice, but none were practicing. Landry and Davis were held out for "precautionary reasons" and should be back soon, but they missed mandatory minicamp and it's fair to wonder, because Ryan Grigson fully expected them to be back by camp when he spoke then. Especially with Landry, I can imagine the team isn't too thrilled that he didn't participate at all in the Colts offseason work, showed up to mandatory minicamp and failed his physical, and then wasn't ready to start camp. With Davis, he has a groin injury I believe, and that's always a little discomforting, and with all the money the Colts paid to him this offseason, I know they'd love him to be out there too.