There’s only so much that one can learn from a non-contact practice like the ones that NFL teams are currently conducting during OTAs.
On the one hand, there are some moves and skills that translate to the field regardless of the contact part of it, especially for running backs. The vision, quickness, explosiveness, catching, and the like are all on display for backs during these practices, but there are also some areas - like pass protection and the ability to play through contact - that aren’t as evident.
So when we talk about a guy impressing during OTAs, keep in mind that it means the guy is doing a good job compared to how much can really be learned from these practices. That’s exactly the situation that Marlon Mack finds himself in, as he’s been impressing the Colts so far, but there are still areas that he’ll need to prove himself in once contact comes.
“He looks good,” head coach Chuck Pagano said on Tuesday. “He’s a quick learner, a quick study. He’s picking up things extremely fast. He’s got good hands and he’s got good vision. He’s got a nice jump cut. He’s explosive and he can burst. He’s good in traffic and he’s learning the protection part of it. Again, we’re not going to know – hitting bags and things like that is one thing and learning who to get on is another. Once we get into pads and we get into the preseason, we’ll figure out if he can stop and block the guys that he’s going to have to block in pass protection. But he’s showing some good things out there to this point.”
So with Mack, the Colts’ fourth round selection this year, the Colts are already seeing some of the things that made him such an intriguing draft pick. They’re seeing his vision, his quickness, and his explosiveness, all of which made him a terrific threat out of the backfield at South Florida, where he racked up 3,609 and 32 touchdowns on the ground.
But what the Colts aren’t seeing is his pass protection, since there’s no contact right now. Pagano said that Mack is learning the protection assignments, but he’ll have to prove that he can do that once training camp and preseason roll around.
That’s very important because Mack could be a candidate for more third down snaps this year due to his playmaking ability out of the backfield, but if he can’t pass protect then that could cut into those third down snaps (like what Josh Ferguson experienced last year). Blocking ability isn’t the biggest deal when it comes to running backs, but if Mack wants to work himself into more snaps he’ll have to prove at least capable of protecting Andrew Luck.
So far, so good for Mack, however, as he’s impressing in OTAs with the Colts. The biggest thing for him will be to keep that up when the pads go on and when contact rolls around later this summer.