For many people going to Colts training camp the first week was an opportunity to see Andrew Luck throw in person just to see it with their own eyes. For others, the experience was less about Luck and more about his surrounding pieces. What do the rookies look like this year? What players are taking that next step to be a more significant part of the team?
The reality is that you have to follow camp pretty closely to really learn anything, and unless you’re a credentialed writer, or someone with a lot of free time, that’s pretty tough. All is not lost though, I’m going to attempt to get you up to speed on the goings on of week one in training camp. Let’s get to it!
It has been noted just how different the environment is this year at camp from last year. Having training camp in front of fans energizes the process in a way that isn’t possible doing it at the Colts’ facility. It was apparent from the start that the players were feeding off the fan energy and it was fueling their performances.
The change in leadership is clear as well. Frank Reich’s press conferences aren’t vastly different from Chuck Pagano’s. He isn’t the most entertaining coach to listen to. Like Pagano, Reich tends toward coachspeak and doesn’t reveal a lot of interest when speaking to the media. He has a similar calm demeanor on the field.
The difference is noticeable though. When trying to identify him on the field amongst all the players it is not difficult. He’s the tallest guy on the field not wearing pads. He is a physically imposing man who has played the game at a high level and has the respect of his team in part because of that experience. They also know he’s a man who just finished leading the Eagles, helmed by backup quarterback Nick Foles, to a Super Bowl win. That earns some respect from the jump. This season will establish how much he holds on to.
Toughness and Competition
If you’ve watched press conferences of Frank Reich and Chris Ballard, you’ve heard these words countless times. Reich talked early on about how the message to the team would be about the role of toughness, both mentally and physically, on a successful team. So far in camp it seems that his message was received.
The running backs perhaps best exemplifies a group taking this idea of toughness to heart. That isn’t really surprising, given what new running backs coach Tom Rathman said back in May:
Toughness, that’s one thing I demand. I know one thing, if you’re coaching a tough guy, that tough guy isn’t going to let you down over the years.
The on-field performances of the running backs have been in line with that philosophy so far.
First live tackling of training camp so far. Robert Turbin just whacked Matthias Farley in the hole. #ouch— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) July 29, 2018
Marlon Mack gets a highlight-reel run off the end. Finishes with a truck stick of unstaffed rookie George Odum. #Colts— George Bremer (@gmbremer) July 29, 2018
Jordan Wilkins was meant to play in pads. He is reveling in this live period. Really physical runner. #ColtsCamp— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) July 29, 2018
Marlon Mack is running tougher today than at any point I’ve seen. Pretty stout in this red zone period. He’s growing.— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) July 30, 2018
Despite their reputation as being a weaker group on this roster, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was one of the more productive running back groups in the league in the coming season. Call me crazy, but I’m expecting big things.
As far as Ballard’s competition goes, it is taking place all over. The running backs have been highly competitive and it is tough to say there is a clear pecking order. The wide receivers are another. Deon Cain has flashed consistently throughout camp, and if that flash translates to preseason games he could easily establish himself as a worthy starter. The defensive line is wide open as well, with players all across it showing up.
Notably, John Simon has made a strong impression in camp, which is huge for him, since the switch to the defensive end role was one many thought he might struggle with. It will be interesting to see if his success holds up when the starting tackles return.
Players at every position have rotated pretty regularly in their opportunity to get reps with the first team. This makes pinning down a depth chart tricky, but is encouraging. Many times over the past several years, the Colts have assigned starters by default. That isn’t conducive to a winning culture, and it is nice to see it changing as at least some positions have begun to build out actual viable depth.
Injuries, and Lack Thereof
For teams like the Chargers, this time of year seems to mean some sort of devastating injury. The Colts have often found themselves in this same boat. However, this year they’ve managed to avoid anything totally awful to start camp, and it appears that the skill position players are in relatively good health.
Soft tissue injuries during the early offseason have plagued this team since at least 2012, with guys like Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, and Vontae Davis seemingly living on the injury report with hamstring injuries during their tenure with the team.
This could be a testament to the work of their new director of sports performance, Rusty Jones. I wrote back in February that he might just end up being the Colts’ secret weapon, and the level of readiness and overall fitness of this team seems to be solid under his guidance thus far.
The obvious area of concern for the Colts with regard to injuries is on the offensive line. The Colts practiced with just 8 of their 15 offensive linemen yesterday. Some, like Jack Mewhort, were on planned rest days and just sitting out. Others were dealing with Injuries holding them out. Anthony Castonzo and Austin Howard, the guys largely viewed as the starters at left and right tackle respectively, have yet to practice in training camp. These are veterans and both reportedly have very minor injuries, but it is worth watching because the line needs a chance to develop chemistry together, and that takes reps and time.
Andrew Luck Is Back
There will be some that will deny it until he’s practically completed a season, but at this point the signs are good enough to say it: Andrew Luck is back and ready for action. Taking on a regular workload and being able to make the throws he has consistently made before is the signal that Luck is well on the road to being the kind of elite weapon that has produced some incredible performances for the Colts.
Equipped with an improved offensive line and an offense that, based on what we’ve seen so far, will rely on the short passing game as well as calculated deep shots, Luck is primed to come back with a vengeance. This fundamentally alters the attitude and mentality of players on that team and also the expectations and capabilities of the Colts as far as how good they can be this season.
Players to Watch
As I’ve already mentioned, Deon Cain and John Simon are both guys who have had good starts to training camp. Darius Leonard is another who has flashed, grabbing a pick in his first practice, and showing up several times since. Quenton Nelson has also been as advertised; a big, immovable bully on the offensive line.
Also mentioned above is running back Jordan Wilkins. Do not sleep on this guy! While I love Marlon Mack and think he’s had a great camp so far, Wilkins provides a physicality that might let him sneak into Turbin’s role during the early season where they’ll be without him. Given that shot, he might never relinquish it.
In the secondary, Kenny Moore is a guy to keep an eye on too. He has been getting a lot of reps as the starting nickel corner, which was Nate Hairston’s job last year.
All in all, camp has been off to a good start. If you get a chance to go, you definitely should do it. It is a good time to see the team, chat with other Colts fans, and get to know guys on the roster you haven’t seen much of yet. The coming weeks will reveal a lot more, but all signs point to a much more enjoyable season than last year.