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Camp Notes: Colts popping pads on Day 3 of training camp

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts-Training Camp Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

We finally were able to see something of substance as the Indianapolis Colts put the pads on for the first time in camp. There was an excitement in the air especially as 11-on-11 drills got underway. The defense was energetic and determined while the offense was eager to take the physicality to their counterparts.

Throughout the day you’ll see that there was a little bit of everything on display from each position unit. Needless to say, it was easy to watch this first day of contact with a smile on your face. Without trying to break down too much, or get too excited about some actual football to take in – I mean it was the FIRST day with pads on – I’ll just go through some of my observations on the day and we’ll go from there.

Competition is more than just talking point

Chris Ballard has clearly instilled with this roster how serious he wants the competition to dominate the short amount of time the Colts have before the regular season kicks off. Not only was it with position groups ramping up their speed and focusing on their technique as they got warmed up, but between units as well.

Naturally we see this in 1-on-1 drills, everyone wants to beat the man across from them, but it seemed to escalate quickly during each rep. Both, frustrations of those getting beat and elation from whoever won that snap were clearly evident as the drills went on. Those who lost a rep were equally eager to get lined back up and prove it wouldn’t happen again.

The pads were popping early with both lines getting after each other, receivers and defensive backs getting physical through the whistle making it clear that friends before and after practice didn’t mean friends during practice. The best part about all of this is that it wasn’t just the veterans, or presumed starters showing their worth while they’re healthy, a solid amount of ‘camp bodies’ were impressing during different drills showing that their desire to make this roster is real.

Regardless of what we hear or see over the next few weeks, understand that this new attitude has caught on, infecting the talent with a mental approach which isn’t likely to be shaken. It sounds like hyperbole, but it was obvious from my vantage point.

Position coach retention matters

Almost regardless of what drill you were watching today, the learning curve almost seemed to not exist outside of a few instances. I never saw the same player on the receiving end of more than a single ‘teaching moment’ – otherwise known as getting reamed. In fact, the position coaches and coordinators are teachers for the most part, and the students were anxious to learn.

Telling the players what they want, showing them and explaining the end result if it’s done correctly was the common theme when I was within earshot, and the players responded accordingly. That wasn’t the case last season early in camp. There was often some notable frustrations with slow learning.

Virtually across the board each position looked to be having seamless drills with an understanding of what was expected from them. Familiarity with the large portion of the coaching staff appears to be an attribute to the team right now.

Individual player observations

Johnathan Hankins is as advertised right now.

There wasn’t anyone who lined up across from him who could handle the majority of his initial moves, let alone his secondary maneuvers. He is quick, effective and is a massive upgrade over whoever you want to fill in the blank with.

He’s so natural with his pass rush moves and appears to be two steps ahead of the unlucky soul he’s lined up across from. He’s a beast and is going to be a blast to watch.

Zach Banner has very clear strengths and weaknesses.

When mauling with nearly anyone he was very good and effective, but when forced to drop further than he wanted to in his pass set he was extremely vulnerable to an inside move. He’s strong and if he gets his hands on you it’s over.

He is long, and it does take some extra time for edge rushers to get around him like the coaching staff told us after he was drafted, but anyone with some quality technique is going to beat him regularly when he’s in protection.

The receiving corps looks very smooth and precise

T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Chester Rogers are clearly one-through-three on the depth chart at this point. Kamar Aiken is doing well too though, and has some super soft hands. Each of them are running good routes, being more physical in blocking situations and look to be doing it all effortlessly.

Additionally, they are all holding their own in my eyes and I don’t expect much change – if any at all – in the depth chart heading into the regular season.

Erik Swoope is bigger and more refined than I expected

We keep hearing how Swoope isn’t enough of a blocker to lock down the consistent No 2 role in the offense. However, he’s clearly been hitting it hard in the offseason and it’s showing every snap he takes. He’s bigger, certainly hasn’t lost a step, his hands are softer and he’s running a large variety of routes and he’s running them very well.

For comparison’s sake Swoope is taller and more defined, while Brandon Williams is a bit more of a load from the waist down. If Swoope works on his blocking like he clearly has with everything else, the Colts may not NEED a third at the position to be a special blocker.

Al Woods and Grover Stewart looking very impressive

Plain and simple, Woods is a massive individual. He’s amazingly strong and had his way with most of the offensive linemen he matched up against throughout the day. He’s literally snapping heads back with his initial punch, manhandling them and can will often force opposing defenses to double down on him. If he’s healthy, he’s the starting nose tackle, forget about it. His ability to be effective at the nose allows Hankins to do his thing in a handful of other alignments.

Stewart is just so stinking quick off the snap. His college tape didn’t impress me all that much, he just epitomized being a project. That is no longer my take on him. He, if everything stays the same, has the real possibility to take a legit backup role to the nose tackle and 3-tech positions.

The best thing about these two, is that they are both going to make Ryan Kelly significantly better by matching up against him throughout the rest of the summer. His combination of speed and strength could easily put him in a situation to contribute as much or more than Hassan Ridgeway did last season.

Adam Redmond, Jeremy Vujnovich making their case

We’ve heard that Vujnovich had been getting worked in with the first group through the offseason training program with Jack Mewhort and Brian Schwenke out and there’s a very good reason why. This coaching staff loves him. Multiple times during their drills Vujnovich was praised for his technique and when the snaps were live, he did what it took to keep his assignment outside of the pocket.

Redmond was the most impressive guard for me today. Yes, that includes Mewhort and Haeg, and it’s not impossible that it’s because those two were just decent without many memorable snaps. Redmond, on the other hand, was extremely noticeable.

When nobody else could handle Hankins, Redmond did – at least he kept him in front of him and was able to make it to his secondary move. After the top five along the line, these two are the best of who’s left, without question.

Marlon Mack is going to be a blast to watch

In spite of Robert Turbin looking very good today as well, Mack was on another level from the rest of the backs. Especially when he gets to the line of scrimmage clean, he is quick, shifty he has some really fun one-cut ability and he can beat defenders to the edge with regularity.

A couple time today Mack went straight up the gut through the defense and moved side to side smoother than a bobsled. His lower body almost resembles an edge rusher’s bend when making multiple cuts. He doesn’t lose speed when changing direction and his big play possibilities make you just shake your head. Mack brings something the Colts simply do not have, and haven’t for quite a while.

Quincy Wilson and Malik Hooker have excellent instincts

A couple times today Wilson showed off his ball skills by breaking up passes and did it in tight coverage on quick routes, being physical early in the route as well as covering deep timing his leap to knock a pass or two to the ground. Rashaan Melvin is absolute the starting corner opposite Vontae Davis right now, but the skills Ballard saw in Wilson are finding their way onto the field already.

Hooker didn’t take part in a ton of the scrimmage portions of today’s practice, but he did get some snaps in red zone opportunities and made the most of them. New tight end Henry Krieger-Coble came open in the back of the end zone at one point and Hooker effortlessly came across the end zone to bat the ball down. He’s bigger and faster than you think and I can’t wait to see him on the field as soon as possible.

Antonio Morrison will start this season, Jon Bostic shining

This may be a touch early, but it appears that Chuck Pagano’s comments on Morrison’s growth through the offseason wasn’t just coach speak. He is much quicker in his ability to diagnose the play in front of him, he is more vocal about what he’s seeing and he wants to kill the ball carrier.

You can’t really compare last year’s camp with what he’s done already. Morrison was much quicker to drop into coverage or carry running back or tight end in man coverage and – most importantly – he’s reacting, not thinking and he appears to be processing the information quickly and accurately.

Bostic has also been sharing the majority of the first team snaps with Morrison and has looked good doing it as well. He dropped an interception in the end zone early on in the day, then made up for it later cutting in front of a route and picking it off which got the entire defense pumped up for the remainder of the drill.

He’s not known as a coverage backer, but Bostic is doing very well reading the plays as he was said to be during the offseason training program. Right now, these two are quite easily the top dogs at the position.

Hilton and Davis setting the tone for respective units

At least twice during 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills, Hilton and Davis skirmished and had to be separated by teammates. There weren’t any punches thrown or anything like that that I could see, but it was something that continued each time the two were matched up over the course of about 10 minutes or so and carried over through multiple plays.

No, this isn’t a big deal, it’s 100 percent a release of energy from two of the team’s big dogs. It was fun to watch, looked mostly harmless in the grand scheme of it all and is setting the tone for all of the young guys – as well as veterans new to the team – that they better be ready to scrap this year. Personally, I love this especially when there’s no real history of animosity between the two.