Before the Indianapolis Colts took the field for the first practice of training camp, they placed two players on the physically unable to perform list (PUP): pass rusher Robert Mathis and offensive lineman Donald Thomas.
For Mathis, the questions about when he will return have been swirling for most of the offseason, with the Colts continually declining to give a timeline. Jim Irsay mentioned that it could be November - but it could be earlier than that, too. Mathis himself said that he plans to be back by week one - though we've yet to hear anything like that from the Colts. On Sunday, however, Chuck Pagano offered up some semblance of a timeline: Mathis is "week to week."
That doesn't mean much with the Colts, as it can mean he's out one more week or for another month or two, but it does show that the pass rusher is getting closer to returning to the field. He was spotted working out on a side field at training camp today, working on some individual drills in an effort to return faster. He also spent time hanging out with other members of the defense as the team conducted walkthroughs of their plays. Mathis was around today, but the question remains when he'll be participating.
It's clear of one thing: the Colts aren't going to rush him back. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said as much yesterday, and Chuck Pagano reiterated it today. "We have to be very, very smart with Robert," Pagano said. "He knows that and we are all on the same page. Again, the lines of communication are open. We have to stick to the process and be patient because everybody is chomping at the bit. You guys are chomping at the bit, he's chomping at the bit, we are chomping at the bit, position coach is chomping at the bit and it's like slow down. We have a long way to go. It's a long season."
This is the theme we've come to understand from the Colts when it comes to Mathis' recovery: they're going to take things slowly. With a 34-year old player coming off of a torn Achilles it makes sense simply for his health and recovery, but there's another reason why it makes sense for the Colts: they have Super Bowl expectations. They're looking more long-term than just week one and instead looking at more meaningful games down the road - hopefully, playoff games. Those are the games that the Colts really want Mathis back for. Trent Cole can fill in as the rush linebacker early on in the season while the Colts bring Mathis back slowly, hoping that as a result he will be healthy and fresh for when the games really matter. Because one thing is certain: if the Colts can get Robert Mathis back looking like Robert Mathis when the playoffs roll around, this team's Super Bowl expectations would become a lot more realistic than they already are.
Also, as for Donald Thomas, who also opens camp on the PUP list, Pagano said that he is "week to week" as well. Again, this doesn't tell us a whole lot, and the case of Thomas is a lot less certain than Mathis. We know that Mathis will be back at some point, but Thomas? The Colts could save money by cutting him, and if he doesn't recover in time to get some reps in training camp and preseason, perhaps they could opt to move on. It says a lot about what they think of him that they've yet to cut him, though, so we'll just have to stay tuned and hope that he gets back on the field soon. He was working out on a side field as well today in individual drills looking to return, and hopefully it will be on the shorter end of that "week to week" range.