Previously we looked at 5 defensive players worth keeping an eye on in training camp. Now we will take a closer look at some players to watch for on the offensive side of the ball. The offense has been a strength for the Colts over the past several years, and if these players realize their potential that won’t change anytime soon.
1. Chester Rogers
With Donte Moncrief injured much of last season the door was left open for some other receivers to make a name for themselves. While Colts fans hoped Dorsett would use that time to really break out, he never really did. His numbers were unremarkable and that just doesn’t cut it when you are a number one pick with an open shot at the number 2 wide receiver spot. One player who did impress when given the opportunity was Chester Rogers. An undrafted free agent out of Grambling State, Rogers put together 19 catches on 35 targets and wowed with a few of them like these:
His numbers as a rookie are remarkably similar to Phillip Dorsett’s. The difference is Dorsett was a first-round pick while Rogers was in a fight just to make the roster. Another difference is size, Rogers at 6’1” is quite a bit taller than Dorsett and also unlike him, has developed the ability to play all over the field. That kind of versatility is exactly what the Colts coaching staff will be looking for in wide receiver depth. OTA’s brought more accolades from coaches and even Andrew Luck. If Rogers can continue to grow and improve upon last year’s successes as a rookie, he can be a solid contributor and perhaps even steal the number three wide receiver spot out from under Aiken and Dorsett.
2. Marlon Mack
What we have learned in recent years is that picking a running back outside the first and second round does not exempt you from landing a franchise back. Ask the Chicago Bears who picked up Jordan Howard in the 5th round last year. That is exactly what the Colts are hoping they have in Marlon Mack. Mack is a home run-style runner with the speed, smooth direction change, and pure athleticism. While his style of running most closely resembles a scat back, his size is larger than is typical for that skill set. When Mack was able to get to the second level in college, he was frequently able to make guys miss and create big plays.
He isn’t without weakness. Mack fumbled far too often in college and will have to prove he can shut that problem down to succeed at the next level. Another problem with him was that he tended to dance around rather than decisively hitting the hole, which could cost him an opportunity, or as more often happened, end with him bouncing outside. While this style worked in college it will be unlikely to be as effective at the NFL level with much faster and smarter linebackers and defensive linemen.
Putting a young, athletic talent like Mack in the mix with a tough-as-nails seasoned veteran like Frank Gore is the best thing for him because Gore is great at making himself skinny and hitting the hole that sometimes doesn’t seem to be there. He also has remarkably good pass blocking and takes care of the football. There is not a better running back to learn from and if Mack can translate his athletic style to some big plays for the Colts it will be a big lift to an offense that tends to rely too much on the pass.
3. Le’Raven Clark
Le’Raven Clark at the beginning of 2016 and at the end of 2016 might as well have been two different players. His quality of play early on was best described as “turnstile” and if you were projecting an award for him it would have been the Most Likely to Get His Quarterback Killed. He spent a lot of time on the bench and working with the second team through the season, and clearly, it was a big help. When he was called on to play with three weeks left in the season, he rose to the challenge.
To hear Anthony Castonzo tell it, Clark’s struggles were a product of not having a great grasp of the playbook or what he was supposed to be doing. That wasn’t news to anyone watching Clark play because he clearly looked lost. It was a different look when he returned late in the season.
There is still a clear need to improve specifically in the pass blocking, but it was evident immediately that the time spent learning and in practice had been instrumental in developing Clark’s game. The jump from college to the NFL is often hardest for offensive linemen, and in year two we typically see a big improvement in the grasp of the game. With Clark, his talent and athleticism to match the tackle position were never in doubt, only how quickly or if he could transition from the kind of scheme run at Texas Tech to the type the Colts run effectively. If he shows those strides through training camp and the preseason it will be another step forward for an offensive line trying to grow together.
4. Kamar Aiken
2016 was a tough year for Aiken. The addition of Mike Wallace to the Ravens, solid performances from Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta, and the return of Breshad Perriman combined to cut his targets by more than half. He proved in 2015 that he has what it takes to be a solid receiving option. Like Moncrief, Aiken is a big, physical presence that the Colts have lacked in their receiving corps and he has the ability to go up for contested catches as well as the speed and strength to get additional yards either by outrunning defenders or breaking tackles.
Being able to line up someone like Aiken and Moncrief who can go up for a 50/50 ball would be huge for the Colts and make it hard for defenses to decide how to play them because Hilton will certainly demand a double team by anyone serious about slowing him down. If Aiken shows he deserves the number three spot on the Colts roster throughout training camp and is able to earn Andrew Luck’s trust, he could not only help his own numbers but likely provide a boost to both Moncrief and Hilton as well.
5. Jack Mewhort
The Colts most consistent lineman will be back in action after ending last season on IR due to a chondral defect. While it is a relief that his knee injury was not as significant as an ACL tear, it certainly warrants observation to see if he is noticeably affected by it as training camp gets under way. Given Mewhort’s demeanor and toughness, the hope is that he will be firing on all cylinders right out of the gate. Assuming that will be the case is a different thing entirely.
The offensive line is still developing with a lot of young and inexperienced players filling out not only the depth but the starting roles, and without him at his best, they will struggle. Mewhort has proven himself as a player and an important piece in the Colts’ offense, but he will have to prove now that he can return to his previous level of play in order to ease our minds about the continued growth of the offensive line.