The Indianapolis Colts this weekend are hosting their rookie mini-camp, and they have a lot of players in the building - 73 of them, to be exact.
“First and foremost, great job by Chris [Ballard] and the personnel staff of putting together this group of individuals that’s participating in this rookie mini-camp,” head coach Chuck Pagano said after Friday’s practice. “We’ve got 73 guys out there. Great job by Jon Scott and the equipment guys. We have never had this many guys to work with. So from a coaching perspective, it’s great to have numbers. Usually you have two deep on each side of the ball and you have to slow things down and things like that. But having 73 guys, we’re more than two deep at a bunch of positions. Chris did a great job and his personnel staff did a great job of getting not only obviously the draft picks in the, but the college free agents. Did a great job there and then the tryout guys. We have a bunch of guys here that are on a tryout basis. Johnny Scott and those guys did a tremendous job.
“The coaches did a tremendous job with the installs,” Pagano continued. “We had a productive day. I know it’s been a long day and it’s not over. They’re in the weight room now. We’ll go back and have meetings later this evening, clean up the tape from today and then they’ll have some rookie player engagement stuff with David Thornton. The three days go fast but we can get a lot done. There were some good things that happened out there. Obviously there’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm – first day and all that stuff. Guys are thinking a little bit, but it’s a good group. We saw a lot of good things and obviously a lot of things to clean up now.”
It makes for a busy but productive three days for the players participating. Pagano is indeed correct in saying that it’s a very large group, but that means more players are getting a shot at competing and making an impact. That group of 73 is made up of draft picks, undrafted free agent signings, tryout players, and a few others, and likewise it’s made up of guys with varying degrees of job security. Malik Hooker, for example, has a pretty secure spot on the roster. Some of the tryout guys, however, won’t be with the team past this weekend. But all 73 players will have a chance to compete and show what they can do, even the tryout guys. That was Pagano’s message to them at the start of rookie mini-camp: prove they belong.
“Yeah, don’t come in and don’t look at lines because you’re a tryout guy,” Pagano said. “We’ve had guys make it before. We’ve got a long history of 18 years running I think where CFAs [college free agents] have made the roster. So there is history that says it can be done. You can’t focus on that. You have to focus on learning your assignments and going out and putting your best foot forward and showing that you belong. Special teams is going to play a huge factor in that. So if they make an impact in two and a half days and they stand out when you start looking at the cut downs and you start looking at the back end of the roster and those kinds of things. It’s neck and neck between two guys – I don’t care if it’s a CFA, a tryout guy, whoever it is. The guy that is probably going to get the nod is going to be a special teams player.
“Again, focus on just learning what to do, giving great effort and all those kinds of things. Go catch somebody’s attention – you have to stick out. All these guys, you are trying to make our squad, but in reality it’s a long ways away. Once we get down the road you are trying to make 31 other teams as well, especially when we get back to training camp and we get in preseason. Again, I know we are a long ways away from that. It may not happen here, but if you work hard, those kind of things, and you put good tape out there you’ll be somewhere.”
It’s important for these UDFAs and tryout guys to not only impress the coaches with their ability to play their respective positions but also with the ability to play special teams. As Pagano pointed out, that is a huge factor in decisions about who the bottom of the roster guys are, as the guy who can contribute on special teams will normally get the nod over the guy who can’t, if it’s a close competition. Pagano has said before that it’s about making yourself necessary: make it so that the Colts can’t cut them.
On a roster as depleted and filled with questions as this one, players will have the chance to truly compete. Their first on-field opportunity to do so came on Friday, and those chances will continue throughout the weekend.