Day two of practice is in the books for the Indianapolis Colts in their 2015 training camp, and it was automatically a better second practice than last year - if you remember, they suffered significant injuries last year on day two of camp (Vick Ballard). They made it through today healthy, so that's a positive sign.
The weather was perfect at Anderson University today - it wasn't as hot as it was on Sunday (still plenty hot, though), and the cloud cover often made it comfortable. We saw lightning off in the distance, but it never interrupted practice. The only lightning at Anderson was on the field (the Colts were in the stadium rather than the practice field due to heavy rain overnight), as the passing offense continued to impress.
With that said, here are the notes from today's practice:
- Offensive line continuity continues. Training camp is a time where a number of different players get opportunities working with the first and second units, trying to impress and show that they deserve a spot. It's not uncommon, especially early in camp, to see the first-teamers rotate in and out. Through two days of camp, however, that hasn't been the case with the Colts' first-team offensive line. I have yet to see any other unit besides this one: 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. That's the only unit I've seen with the first-team. Head coach Chuck Pagano has said publicly that he hopes to find a starting five early and leave them together to develop continuity and learn how to play together, and it appears that he's not wanting to mess with the line too much for that reason. Hugh Thornton will certainly factor into the competition at left guard, while Jonotthan Harrison will surely get a chance to compete at center too, but so far, the Colts appear to be set on finding five starters and then leaving them along - which, considering their continuity problems last year, isn't a bad idea.
- That Andrew Luck guy is pretty good. I feel that I often forget to report on how Andrew Luck is doing because, well, we just expect him to be great by now. But man, he is impressive. Today, for example, there was a play in which Luck launched a bomb deep downfield toward Donte Moncrief, who was covered tightly. Luck dropped the pass perfectly over Moncrief's shoulder and into his hands for a touchdown. Yesterday, Luck did the same thing with T.Y. Hilton. It's just practice, but Andrew Luck is in complete control and his passes are perfect. It's just fun to sit and watch it, even if we've come to expect him to be great.
- T.Y. Hilton is stealing the show. As I saw Colts general manager Ryan Grigson watching practice while the Colts quarterbacks and receivers worked, I couldn't help but have this thought: if I were Grigson, after watching T.Y. Hilton, I'd pay him now. That doesn't mean you pay him simply because of a practice or two, but rather because so far in camp he has been phenomenal and has reinforced what many think - he's in for a great year. Hilton has caught everything thrown his way, has made some highlight reel plays, has perfect timing with Andrew Luck, and figures to have a huge role in the offense this year despite the other receiving talent. Hilton has been perhaps the star of camp so far.
- Vick Ballard's return continues. Yesterday, Vick Ballard made his return to practice but was limited to just position drills. Today, however, Ballard was working in team drills - something that surprised me a bit but that was certainly good to see. Ballard did a fine job in the reps he received in team drills, but the biggest thing is that he was already back working in a bigger role.
- Arthur Jones looks good. One of the hardest things to tell when it comes to training camp is how the offensive and defensive lines are doing, especially when they're not wearing pads. But despite that, it was clear today that Art Jones could be a big force up front on the defensive line for the Colts in the run game. He blew up a couple of plays in the backfield, including one that would have lit up Boom Herron had it been live. That's something that the Colts certainly want to see more of this year - when it gets to the point where it's not their own offense he's blowing up.
- Bjoern Werner gets some reps - at strongside outside linebacker. Today was the first time all camp that I saw Bjoern Werner get some reps with the first team offense, and I think it's important to note where he was playing. He entered the first-team lineup in relief of Erik Walden at strongside outside linebacker instead of at rush linebacker, where he played last year. Werner was drafted in 2013 to be a pass rusher and played rush linebacker last year in Robert Mathis' absence, but he really struggled there. His run defense has been by far his strongest area so far in the NFL, and moving him to strongside could help him utilize those strengths more and take some pressure off of him to perform as a pass rusher, as Trent Cole, Robert Mathis, and Jonathan Newsome can fill that role. I'm still somewhat skeptical of how well Werner will do in 2015, but I think that if he's going to find a role in this defense where he can contribute, his best shot is at strongside - where he seems to be playing in camp.
- Nice day for the "Boomstick," Pat McAfee. Pat McAfee is one of the most entertaining and likable Colts players, and he reminded fans today that he's also one of the best Colts players. Even before practice began, McAfee was booting punts that traveled 65-75 yards in the air, and then other times had punts hang up in the air for quite a while. Later in practice, during organized punting drills with the whole punt unit, he pinned a punt at the one yard line. In the middle, McAfee also served as the field goal kicker, giving Adam Vinatieri a break. With Griff Whalen holding, McAfee hit 7-of-8 kicks, including one from 65 yards out that would have been good from 70-75 yards.
- Chuck Pagano takes advantage of coaching moments. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano used to be a defensive back coach in the NFL (and a good one, at that), and under his watch defensive backs like Vontae Davis, Darius Butler, and Mike Adams have really improved and enjoyed career years. Watching training camp gives fans a brief glimpse behind the scenes at that, as today Chuck Pagano spent a considerable amount of time during positional drills working with his defensive backs. While the cornerbacks were going 1-on-1 against wide receivers, Pagano stood on the sidelines with the corners, talking with them and coaching them up. He especially took some time to talk with and teach Vontae Davis, trying to help one of the league's best corners become even better.
- A few offensive formation notes. There will be plenty more where this comes from, but there are four things that I've noticed from an offensive scheme standpoint that I thought I'd share. Firstly, a couple of times over the past two days the Colts have used Phillip Dorsett as a decoy on a reverse play. In other words, the quarterback will hand off to the running back while Dorsett is coming around behind the quarterback, and then he'll fake the handoff to the receiver while, in fact, the back has the ball. They have yet to give the ball to Dorsett on a reverse, but perhaps they intend on leaving that open as a threat to opposing defenses. Secondly, the Colts have a nice screen play in their playbook in which they go trips formation to one side of the field (with one of the wideouts being tight end Dwayne Allen), and then when the ball is snapped two of the receivers are used as decoys and then blockers for the third one on the screen pass. While today they used this play to get Andre Johnson the ball, I like the idea of getting the ball into Phillip Dorsett's hands on plays like these to allow him to make a play. Thirdly, I like some of the ways that Pep Hamilton is working on using his players to create the best matchups. Take, for example, one play today that I liked. The Colts put their speedster wide receivers on the field, including T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief together on the right side of the field. Then in between the two wideouts and the offensive line was tight end Coby Fleener. The ball was snapped and Hilton and Moncrief both took off on "go" routes, drawing the coverage away, while Fleener then went underneath on a simple out route that went for a first down. It's plays like these where the Colts can really get creative and utilize their speedsters at the wide receiver position to create favorable matchups for others. And lastly, one thing is very clear about this offense: they're going to utilize the downfield passing game a lot. As long as the offensive line can give Andrew Luck enough time to throw, the Colts will take advantage of the speed they have from T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, and Duron Carter to beat opponents deep, something that hasn't really been stopped through two days of camp. I have a feeling it won't be stopped a ton during the regular season, either, if the line holds up long enough.
- Duron Carter is impressing. Speaking of Duron Carter, I think he's had a very good start to camp, though he's been overshadowed a bit by guys like Hilton, Johnson, and Dorsett. But I think Carter has done a fine job. He clearly has some things he needs to keep working on, but he has shown some great strengths too. He has great speed that allows him to beat most corners deep and makes him very hard to cover, but at the same time he has made some nice adjustments on the ball. Probably the play of the day from camp came from Carter, who was running a deep route but broke it off a bit and made a great adjustment on the ball to bring it down despite being covered. His adjustment skills were on display there, and together with his speed it could make him a nice threat for the Colts offense.
- A note to fans. As a bit of a side note to all of this, I've received tweets, comments, and other messages from a number of you saying that you saw me at practice - don't be afraid to come up and say hello, if you're so inclined. I'm not that scary, I promise.