On a hot and sunny day in Anderson, Indiana, the Indianapolis Colts took the field to open training camp and, in many ways, their 2015 season.
There was a large crowd on hand (6,379 fans) on Sunday afternoon to watch the Colts' first practice, which took place from 1:50 - 4:40 p.m. ET. As mandated by the CBA, the Colts were not in pads today but rather only in helmets, as the first day they will be allowed in pads is on Tuesday. Despite the lack of pads and, therefore, the lack of contact, it was a good first practice to get this year's training camp underway.
Let's jump in to my notes from practice:
- Offensive line rotation. On the first day of camp, we really can't read too much into who was working with the first and second teams, as the Colts try to rotate players in and out. With that said, however, there didn't seem to be much rotation with the first team offensive line, and in fact I never saw it anything other than the same five all day. That doesn't mean that I didn't miss it, but it does mean that an overwhelming majority of the time it was the same five. With Chuck Pagano being on record as saying he wants to find a consistent group of five up front as quickly as possible, this is something to keep an eye on. With that said, here was the first team offensive line today: Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Lance Louis at left guard, Khaled Holmes at center, Todd Herremans at right guard, and Jack Mewhort at right tackle. With the second team offensive line, then, it was most commonly Joe Reitz at left tackle, Hugh Thornton at left guard, Jonotthan Harrison at center, David Arkin at right guard, and Denzelle Good at right tackle. One note on Harrison: he snapped a ball way over quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's head today. While this by itself really means nothing, it's at least worth noting and keeping an eye on because that was something that Harrison struggled with last year. While in no way should you make any sort of judgement based off of one snap on the first day of training camp, it's just a reminder of some of the things to perhaps be watching for during training camp and preseason. If it continues to be an issue, then perhaps it's something more than just a little side note.
- Competition at the return spot. It will be interesting during training camp and preseason to keep an eye on the return game - namely, who is returning punts and kicks. The favorite for the job is Phillip Dorsett, the Colts' first round draft pick, and this theory was confirmed when they released Josh Cribbs the day after drafting Dorsett. He worked as a returner at times during offseason workouts and figures to be the favorite. During both the punt and kick return drills today, Dorsett was back there returning kicks, but he wasn't the only one. At punt returner, Dorsett, Quan Bray, Duron Carter, and Ryan Lankford all took turns today, while at kick returner it was Dorsett, Carter, Bray, Lankford, Donte Moncrief, and Boom Herron. We'll be keeping an eye on this as camp goes on, but at least for today to open camp, those were the guys working as returners.
- A few other depth chart notes. The Colts have yet to release an official depth chart, and as already noted we can't read too much into the lineups on the first day of camp. But with that said, here are a few other notes from the first and second team units today. Firstly, the second-team running back today seemed to be Zurlon Tipton, which was interesting because Boom Herron was participating in camp today. That seems, to me, like just an opportunity to get Tipton some work with the second team more than anything else, as Herron and Josh Robinson could push for the spot, as could Vick Ballard (though he's limited to position drills right now). Secondly, as should be expected, the second-team safeties today were Colt Anderson and Clayton Geathers. And thirdly, the most common defensive line for the second team unit was with Henry Anderson, Montori Hughes, and Zach Kerr in there.
- Griff Whalen, a.k.a. "Mr. Training Camp." As is the case almost every year during training camp, wide receiver Griff Whalen is competing for a spot on the roster. He's most likely competing for the sixth wide receiver spot, and it's a battle that he really could win. If he continues to impress like he did today, then he might win that battle. I think we should officially nickname Griff Whalen "Mr. Training Camp," because every year at camp I find myself talking about how impressive he was and how he was making plays. Today, that was certainly the case as well. He beat rookie D'Joun Smith on a nice crossing route in individual drills, and then he seemed to factor into the offense (whether it was the first or second team) quite a bit, catching several passes. His best catch of the day was a great grab in which he reached up, pulled the pass down, and dragged his feet down along the sidelines to complete the catch in bounds. It was a fantastic play.
- Speaking of D'Joun Smith… The Colts' third round draft pick, cornerback D'Joun Smith, figures to be the team's fourth cornerback (for good reason), but in wide receiver versus cornerback drills today he struggled a bit. He let Griff Whalen beat him on a crossing route, got burned deep by T.Y. Hilton, and then also got beat by Ryan Lankford and Quan Bray. But, with all of that said, let's make something very clear: this drill, especially when it is without pads and therefore limits the contact corners can make, is very much in favor of the wide receivers. So while Smith was getting beat a lot, keep in mind that it's nothing to get concerned about.
- Trent Cole at defensive end? A common look for the Colts' first team defense today was to have pass rusher Trent Cole playing at defensive end. What's up with that? It appears, at least from today's practice, that when the Colts go to a nickel package (bringing in Darius Butler as the slot corner), the team removes the nose tackle from their defense and shifts Cole to the defensive end spot - a similar role to his role as the rush outside linebacker (he was playing with the first team today with Robert Mathis still recovering) but still noteworthy nonetheless.
- Loaded wide receiver position certainly living up to it. After just one practice, it's already clear that the Colts have plenty of talent at the wide receiver position. There were too many nice plays by T.Y. Hilton (his timing with Andrew Luck is a thing of beauty), Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Duron Carter, and Griff Whalen that I couldn't begin to note them all here, but the positive news for the Colts is that all of them had a good day at camp today, as did tight ends Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Jack Doyle, and Erik Swoop and running back Frank Gore in the receiving game too.
- Nice start for Adam Vinatieri. Adam Vinatieri is the oldest player in the NFL and is beginning his 20th training camp, but the Colts' kicker still has it. A first team All-Pro and Pro Bowler last season, Vinatieri was 11-of-12 today in field goal kicking. His lone miss was wide left from 52 yards out, while his long was from 58 yards out - a kick that had plenty of distance. He also hit two 49-yard field goals in game-winning situations. Also of note is that, with the extra point moved back to the 33-yard line, Vinatieri attempted two kicks from that distance and made both of them easily.
- And the play of the day was… Most of the highlights from today's practice came via nice catches from receivers, and the best play of the day was exactly that. Tight end Jack Doyle, who has carved out a nice role for himself in the Colts' offense as a valuable third tight end and as a fan favorite, made a great catch in traffic. He was running a route and his jersey was clearly held by a cornerback, but - while in the middle of traffic and right after being held - he managed to jump up in the air and snag the pass, bringing it down for a completion. He did have a drop today, but other than that has proved to be a very reliable and capable receiver.
- Mike Adams to Vontae Davis to paydirt. It didn't come during the 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 drills, but during the wide receiver versus cornerback drills, Mike Adams made a nice play on a ball intended deep for tight end Coby Fleener. Adams picked it off, and even though the drill ended there the safety headed for the opposite end zone. Head coach Chuck Pagano, with a huge smile on his face, took off running after Adams, as did cornerback Vontae Davis. Pagano trailed off around midfield, but Davis kept going. As Adams neared the end zone, he tossed the ball backwards to Davis, who caught it in stride and took it the rest of the way to the house.
- Welcome back, Vick Ballard. One of the coolest parts of practice today was seeing the return of running back Vick Ballard, who has missed most of the past two seasons with injuries. He wasn't placed on the PUP list to start camp today, and while Chuck Pagano said that they will bring him back slowly, Ballard took part in some of the running back drills today - a very welcome sight. He's a guy that's hard not to root for this year with the Colts.
- Injury update. We already knew this morning that Robert Mathis and Donald Thomas were placed on the PUP list to open camp, and both of them were out on a side practice field today doing separate drills trying to get back to health. Nate Irving, who wasn't placed on the PUP list but who still is recovering from injury, also spent some time with the others on the side field doing individual drills. As for new injuries today, the only two of note were to cornerback Jalil Brown and to offensive lineman David Arkin, who both spent time in the trainer's tent during practice. The good news is that they were only cramps, however, as it was a very hot day with little cloud cover today in Anderson.
- Trent Richardson makes an appearance… kind of. I'm not kidding you about this: I hadn't even gotten out of my car before I saw a fan wearing a jersey (not uncommon, especially for Colts fans). The jersey? Trent Richardson's number 34. It's a new season filled with so much excitement, and yet the very first jersey I saw at training camp in 2015 was Trent Richardson. It could only go up from there, and it certainly did, as the majority of jerseys were Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Peyton Manning, or some player whose jersey is actually worth wearing.