With the close of organized training activities, the Colts spring work has nearly come to an end. They only thing left before training camp is the three day minicamp that will take place from Tuesday to Thursday next week. While we hope to continue learning more about the team during this final practice period, fans will soon have to wait weeks for the team to make its way back to Westfield for the kick-off of training camp.
On Thursday, Chris Blystone did an excellent job of breaking down some of the notes coming out of OTAs. Some of those notes will be reinforced and repeated in this story, which will break down the heart of a discussion between Kent Sterling and George Bremer, which you can listen to through the link in the following tweet.
For those who would rather read a breakdown of the topics they discussed, we have some of the key comments here. Both have been on site for the portions of OTAs that have been open to members of the media.
Perhaps No Position is More Open for Competition than Linebacker
When Chris Ballard hired Matt Eberflus as the new defensive coordinator, he knew that there would be an entirely different look to the Colts defense. The trouble for Ballard is that few players on the roster who fit the new mold. Ballard promised that there would be a handful of new players at the position by the time the summer rolled around.
While no big-name free agent signings ever materialized, he did bring in a lot of new faces. Veterans Najee Goode and Tyrell Adams were added through free agency, Darius Leonard was the second pick for the Colts in the draft, Matthew Adams and Zaire Alexander were added in the seventh round, and priority undrafted free agent Skai Moore also signed for a chance to compete for a role in the new-look defense.
Bremer went into some detail about how many of these players, and second-year Ballard pick Anthony Walker, have already been getting a lot of reps. What may be the biggest disappointment for this unit is that Leonard has yet to take the field. Bremer said:
“Darius Leonard probably has the most raw talent of anybody in that group. He’s one of those guys that hasn’t been on the field yet. We’re not sure what he’s dealing with but since the draft he hasn’t been able to participate yet. You would think that he would have a line at the Will spot but again he has got to get out there and he has got to earn that so he is going to be behind a little bit.”
In Leonard’s absence, a ton of players have been getting the opportunity to prove themselves. Bremer continued:
“Najee Goode is a veteran who is going to have a chance, I think, at one of the other two spots. Anthony Walker has seen a lot of time in there. You have even seen some guys like Tyrell Adams who I think is a third-year guy out of West Georgia, he has been getting a lot of snaps and I have seen him at all three linebacker spots at one time or another. And then Skai Moore, an undrafted free agent who had a really good day it looked like today, he had a pick six at one point. He got a lot of work at the Mike spot. I think anybody on the roster at that position has a chance to get a good deal of playing time this year.”
The two linebackers who have generated the most noise this spring are arguably Walker and Moore.
What Walker has going in his favor is that he may be the most athletically gifted holdover from the linebacker room a season ago. He focused energy late in his college career on bulking up to play more of a thumper role in Northwestern’s defense. His transition to carrying more weight came at a cost so there is reason to believe that slimming back down in a defense that emphasizes speed could help him be a more dynamic player. When he as slimmer in his junior season, he was a much more highly touted prospect.
Skai Moore spent his college career as an undersized ball hawk who always found himself in the right spot in coverage. What is most encouraging about his work this spring is that this ability seems to have transitioned to the practice field on a professional level. Even if Moore only plays in sub packages as a rookie, linebackers who can jump into passing lanes and create turnovers are highly coveted in the modern NFL. He will be worth monitoring as training camp rolls around.
Sterling and Bremer agreed that Ballard’s success or failure at addressing the linebacker position this off-season could potentially be judged based upon Antonio Morrison’s role in 2018. While Morrison has been seeing time in the strong side role, a role that focuses more on defending the run, Sterling sees his spot on the roster as a sign that something went wrong. Sterling said:
“Here’s the way I am going to judge the linebacking corps for the Indianapolis Colts, that is if Antonio Morrison is still on the roster on September 9th, they have a functionality problem at that position that they haven’t addressed adequately.”
“Yeah, there isn’t a whole lot about his game and his makeup that seems to fit this new idea, the athleticism, that is not who he is. So yeah, if he has a major role then there has probably been some failures from some other guys that were brought in here.”
Fair or not, Morrison’s game relied heavily on instincts. The new scheme will require that covers more ground and has more range than what he used to and his instincts will only go so far. It is fair to say that if Morrison is starting or has a primary role on defense, it will be difficult for Eberflus to run the system according to his design.
There are Legitimate Reasons to Believe the Offensive Line is Improved
No position has received more attention or criticism from the Colts fan base during Andrew Luck’s career than the offensive line. Every year, no matter what efforts are made in free agency or the draft, the team seems to lack the pieces to get the job done. This season, that may finally change.
The amount of draft capital that is now on the line is rather impressive. Three of the projected Week 1 starters are first round draft picks. Two of the projected Week 1 starters are tested veterans. Another rookie was an early second round pick this year. Former starting guard Jack Mewhort, who is a solid NFL starter when healthy, is not only unlikely to start this season, he is on the roster bubble.
George Bremer thinks this group is different than ones in the past. He stated:
“The thing I think is important with this group is not a lot of it’s based on projections. In the past they brought guys in and it’s somebody who maybe had done half of what they wanted them to do here and they were we’re looking at a guy they thought could develop into what they want. Nelson is obviously a projection but he is the number 6 pick in the draft so it is not a very hard projection to make. The other guys they brought in, Matt Slauson has already done it in this league. Austin Howard started 80 some odd games in this league. I think that’s a big thing. I think in the past they been hoping that guys would step up, maybe outperform what they had done to this point in their career, and this year you can kind of look at what they’ve done. There’s a track record with these guys and you can have some confidence that the offensive line has improved. “
This group still has to go out and prove it but it definitely feels different.
Deon Cain has Generated Buzz at Wide Receiver
Another position that has been a real struggle to address since Reggie Wayne retired is wide receiver. Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett are gone. To say that Indianapolis has had bad luck trying to snag reliable veteran wide receivers via free agency would be an understatement.
This year the team hopes that Ryan Grant can change their free agency fortunes and join Chester Rogers to serve as reliable targets for Andrew Luck. Who will fill out the roster behind Hilton, Grant, and Rogers is another story.
Chris Ballard drafted Reece Fountain and Deon Cain to compete with a roster full of others who are looking for a chance in the NFL. Cain is an interesting story because some saw him as a second or third round prospect who fell all the way to the sixth round for the Colts. He entered the off-season admitting he had a chip on his shoulder after so many teams passed him by and he has backed it up on the field.
Bremer discussed his role specifically as a red zone target. He said:
“He has looked very good throughout the spring and I think one thing especially where he shined today and has you know in the practices that are open to us is in the red zone and that’s an area that this team has struggled for awhile now. He just seems to get consistently get open in the red zone and catch the ball. I don’t know very much guys on this roster that have a history of doing that.”
There is still a long way to go before Cain earns anything but it is encouraging to hear that he is making an early name for himself, especially in a role fans hoped Donte Moncrief might contribute if he returned to the team.
Chris McCain’s Situation will Test Frank Reich
There are very few domestic violence charge stories in the NFL that have started as weird as Chris McCain’s. I’m not sure I’ve every seen a player who seemed so entirely blind sided. He immediately claimed that he knew nothing about the charges, had no idea who the woman was who filed the charges against him, and had no contact with law enforcement to give him a clue something like this was coming.
The truth will come out at some point but it puts the Colts, and new head coach Frank Reich, in the spotlight. Bremer provided some updates. He stated:
“We do not know for sure what is going on. It sort of was a mutual decision that he is not with the team right now. He was kind of sent home. I think they are going to let the legal process play out a little bit and then make a decision but I thought Frank Reich.... made it very clear that if it is determined that there is substance to these charges, I think there will be some pretty dire consequences.”
Sterling followed up:
“And it seems like the actions speak louder than words right? Like, he’s gone.”
“Yes, the way Frank Reich was talking today it sounded like wasn’t just speaking to Chris McCain but to the entire roster that if you cross a line, I don’t think they are going to have much patience....”
This will be a long down period for McCain and the Colts front office. While there is no way to now how quickly things will come together, there is a very strong chance that any sign of there being truth to the allegations will result in a quick dismissal for McCain. It says a lot that he has already been separated from the team until this gets sorted out.