This week is the first of a six-week summer break for Indianapolis Colts players, as they are getting some valuable time off, spending time with family and/or just getting away from the grind of football.
The offseason program isn’t as grueling as the schedule from August through December/January, but it’s still a ten-week program filled with plenty of workouts and practices. The Colts concluded that offseason program last week, wrapping it up with a three-day mandatory mini-camp. That came on the heels of ten OTA practices, and before that several other practices with position drills and plenty of workouts.
It’s always hard to tell much from the OTAs and offseason workouts because they’re not in pads, so ultimately this is about figuring out which players to keep a closer eye on moving forward. But it’s still the first impression of these players in 2017, which can be especially important considering there’s a new GM in the building.
Last Thursday, Bob Lamey talked with Colts GM Chris Ballard upon the conclusion of mini-camp, and Lamey begun by simply asking Ballard about his first impressions of the roster and who impressed him this offseason. Ballard went on for nearly five minutes discussing most areas of the team and sharing his thoughts, as well as some players he was impressed with during the last several weeks. Here’s his full response:
“Well I’m really careful this time of year because I think teams get a really false impression of their teams in OTAs and in shorts. This game is played in pads, and it’s a tough, physical game, and so until we really get into camp, we won’t really know. The things that I’m excited about, I’m excited about our front seven. I think we’ve upgraded, I think we’ve improved, I think we’re bigger, we’ve got some good athletes at the position, so I’m very encouraged by the front seven.
“I think we’ve got pretty good depth at safety. I was happy with Darius Butler. Just a tremendous pro, shows up every day, works, good teammate, everything you’d want. And I think he’s got some flexibility to where he can also go play the nickel, so kind of a Swiss army knife back in the back end. I thought Matthias [Farley] had a really good offseason. [He] shows up every day, works, he’s a good athlete, excited to see him in pads.
“I think the corner position is going to be good competition. We’ve got some young guys there that with the case of [Chris] Milton, who I thought really took big steps. I thought [Quincy] Wilson, our second round pick, got better as we came along, he’s still got a ways to go in terms of getting his body right and getting into kind of football shape that we need him to be, but you see the instincts, you see the length, and you see good movement, so I think the arrow is definitely going up. So no, I think we’re going to have great competition.”
“As far as offensively, really I’m excited about the receiver position. I thought Donte Moncrief had an outstanding, outstanding offseason. I want to see it continue into camp and into the season, but we think he’s got great upside and I’ve really appreciated the way he’s worked. I thought T.Y. Hilton had a very strong OTAs, as did Chester [Rogers]. I thought Chester Rogers was outstanding. I think we’ll see more of Kamar Aiken, I think getting into a new system and learning it, but he gives us another big, physical receiver. And then the battle for the fifth spot will be interesting to see, I mean [Phillip] Dorsett had flashes when he was practicing. But really that – I shouldn’t say just fifth, I mean that third, fourth, and fifth spot there’s going to be some heavy competition for who gets play time.
“At running back, I thought [Josh] Ferguson, I thought both Ferguson and [Robert Turbin]. I thought Turbin was outstanding, consistent, everyday, same guy everyday, works, great professional. And I thought Ferguson was really strong. It will be great to see when the pads [come on]; with that position you really don’t know until the pads come on. It’s easy to run around in shorts, but until those pads come on we’ll really find out. But I think we’ve got great competition there, getting Frank [Gore] back in the mix after letting him kind of heal up and get his body right, make sure he’s ready to go, and then the addition of [Marlon] Mack. Mack showed speed, didn’t get to go through mini-camp because of a hamstring but he showed speed and vision, so he’s going to be an exciting player to watch. And we’ve got a young kid, [Dalton] Crossan, who I think kind of does everything right everyday.
“At quarterback, it was good for [Scott] Tolzien to get all the reps he did and get reps with the ones, I think that will help his development. And the two young guys [Stephen Morris and Phillip Walker], we like both of them. We think Morris [has] got a little something to it and we think Walker’s got a lot of upside. Strong arm, he’s an athlete, and he’s got some presence, so I think he’s got a lot of upside.
“At the tight end position, I’m excited about what we know about Jack Doyle. He’s a consummate professional, he’s everything you want, I think he’ll have a good season. And I’m really excited about [Erik] Swoope and seeing where he’s going. He’s a very talented, talented player and now being able to fit him in and find him a role on offense will be fun to watch. And then we’ll have a battle for that third spot, I thought Brandon Williams has been good all spring in what he’s able to give us on special teams will really help his cause. And then the flashes we had from our kid from the University of Washington [Darrell Daniels] here the last three days have been really strong, so we’ll see. But look, until we get the pads on, we won’t really know. Until we get to the grind of the season and the grind of camp, you don’t really know until we get the pads on. So to me it’s a blank slate going in, this is a base for them to get started and make sure that they know the offense, get their bodies right, get their technique where it needs to be, and now the real competition starts in camp.”
That’s a lot to take in, and it’s a lengthy evaluation of the Colts’ roster by Chris Ballard. It seemed as if the answer kind of evolved along the way too, from what Ballard was impressed with to his overall thoughts on the offense. But regardless, it’s nice to get such a thorough look into the mind of the GM at the conclusion of the offseason workouts.
Ballard mentioned several players that he was impressed with in the offeseason program: safeties Darius Butler and Matthais Farley, cornerbacks Chris Milton and Quincy Wilson, wide receivers Donte Moncrief, T.Y. Hilton, and Chester Rogers, running backs Josh Ferguson, Robert Turbin, and Dalton Crossan, and tight ends Brandon Williams and Darrell Daniels. Ballard also name-dropped several others: wide receivers Kamar Aiken and Phillip Dorsett, running backs Frank Gore and Marlon Mack, quarterbacks Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris, and Phillip Walker, and tight ends Jack Doyle and Erik Swoope.
He seems to like the development of the defense, as he stated that he thinks the front seven is quite improved and that there’s good depth and competition in the secondary. He also likes the talent at wide receiver, thinks highly of the three backup quarterbacks who will be competing for spots, and is excited to see what the running backs and tight ends can do. He didn’t mention the offensive line, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. First of all, the question wasn’t intended to prompt a comprehensive evaluation of the roster, while the unit is also one of the harder ones to evaluate while in shorts due to the lack of contact.
That’s also one of the big takeaways from what Ballard said, as he made it clear both at the beginning and the end that these offseason workouts are really just setting the stage for the competition that will come later in training camp and preseason, as these guys will have to earn their spots when the pads come on. So these players that Ballard mentioned as being impressed with have caught the GM’s eye, but that won’t be enough to guarantee them a spot on the roster (at least for some of them). They’ll have to back it up with their play on the field when the pads come on.
So Chris Ballard is correctly pointing out something that we have mentioned over and over too: don’t read too much into the offseason program. One of the most valuable things that comes out of the offseason program is a better idea of which players the team likes and who to pay closer attention to, and Ballard helped us out in that regard by rattling off over a dozen names in a few minutes of players he liked this offseason. So keep this page bookmarked when you’re getting ready for training camp in late July, as these guys will be players to watch because of the first impression they made. To make the roster, though, they’ll have to keep building on that.