Over the past couple weeks the Indianapolis Colts have gone from a mental assumption of what the team might look like, to having a much more clear view of who they like where, and how much they’re going to ask from them.
There are several guys who have shown the Colts coaching staff what they wanted to see over the past 11 practices and it begins to get real for some of these players Thursday as the preseason gets under way in Seattle. Practice is practice, but if any of those who have risen on the depth chart — or just in the minds of the coaching staff — through camp can show out similarly as the preseason kicks off, they’ll be seen in an even brighter light.
Here are a handful of Colts who have been on the rise through camp to this point and will be a group you’ll want to keep your eyes on going forward.
Kenny Moore II | CB
Moore has really taken off, especially in the last few practices. However, Chris Ballard and his coaching staff have been raving about him for awhile now. Moore has been getting first-team reps as the boundary corner — opposite Pierre Desir — lately and he’s continued to impress ever since.
Despite Moore’s size (5-foot-9, 189 pounds) his praise has been coming due to his physicality and ability to challenge at the catch point. The rest seems to come pretty easily for Moore. He’s smart, doesn’t make fundamental errors and has that instinctual nature to his game that Reich talks so much about.
It already looks like Moore has passed up Quincy Wilson as CB2 and that the position might just be his to lose. If he can throw in a couple good preseason performances to back that up, he just might be able to lock it up sooner rather than later.
Ryan Grant | WR
Grant is a bit of a different case then the rest of these you’ll read about. He’s definitely not flashy, he doesn’t possess any next-level speed, size or hands to speak of. But, that hasn’t changed the coaches minds for the worse about him.
Offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni recently doted about Grant speaking about his consistency and desire to improve, while mentioning his route running and daily approach to camp. While Grant was recently pegged as the No. 2 at the position behind T.Y. Hilton, it comes via what won’t show up on the stat sheet.
The lack of production and chemistry with Andrew Luck has me wondering how real this is right now, and deserves legitimate concern. But, he’s clearly become one of the staff’s favorites over the past couple weeks. He’ll really be one to watch closely.
K.J. Brent | WR
Brent has been one of, if not the most interesting players at camp so far. It’s been a nice surprise for the receiver position. He’s become an excellent route runner, has speed to burn and is a regular target for whoever is passing the ball.
At 6-foot-3, Brent gives the quarterbacks a big target, can rise to win 50/50 balls and is becoming one of the more reliable pass catchers from the unit. Last year Brent was active for 5 games, and though he didn’t put any catches, his potential for ascension was understood.
Brent has come in to camp and has dominated at points, creating separation with crisp breaks while having that speed to runaway from defenders after the catch. With is potential in mind, Brent has risen from near the bottom of the receiver corps to own one of the top 5 spots at the position thus far. I can’t wait to see him versus different colored jerseys.
Denico Autry | DT/DE
Wow! Honestly, that’s something I’ve heard regularly at camp in response to Autry’s play. He’s now been known as the one guy who has given rookie axe-murderer Quenton Nelson fits so far physically, but is also showing the speed and burst that Ballard and Matt Eberflus covet in this scheme.
He’s doing exactly what they want from him. He’s been disrupting the Colts’ backfield, making life difficult for the backs, has forced Luck to escape early on 5-step dropbacks and is regularly seen chasing down the ball carrier to the sidelines. He’s truly been a spark plug for the defensive line up to this point.
But, Thursday we’ll get to see if it translates against other teams. Seeing that he can be a three-down player for the Colts this year gets me excited about the possibility of him realizing his potential. He mostly came in as the starter, I think, but he’s looking more and more like a possible game changer for this defense.
Skai Moore | LB
What else can you say about Moore? He’s an UDFA for starters, and has risen to the ranks of starter (MIKE LB) with just one injury to Anthony Walker. Moore’s ability to cover and make plays in college was something we all hoped would surface for him in some capacity or another.
Let’s just say he’s — at minimum — a legit upgrade in coverage to anyone else who’s worked in the MIKE role. Moore has packed on a few pounds since college, but never really lacked the physicality that the position calls for any how. Frank Reich talks about ball production, nearly every day. When you aren’t getting a ton of it from the rest of the back-7, a door opened for Moore.
He’s taken advantage of his opportunity, and now is faced with very real expectations from Eberflus. Getting him in there in nickel, and as the dime linebacker will be good launching points for his season to take off.
Joe Haeg | OL
Haeg has been a bit of a late riser due to injuries, but a riser nonetheless. He’d been working as the third center, a rotational guard and tackle, and now he’s getting first-team snaps at left tackle just before the first preseason game of the year.
Haeg was expected to be one of the top utility linemen coming into the year, but due to Anthony Castonzo being out, Denzelle Good sitting for the past few days and Le’ Raven Clark apparently not cutting it as the top backup there, Haeg finds himself in a position to solidify himself unequivocally as the sixth linemen regardless of who goes down.
Castonzo up to this point in his career, has been one of the most reliable lineman for the Colts. He’s been good and he’s been available, thus the Colts have been able to scoot by without a legit backup at left tackle. As the Colts prepare for Seattle Thursday night, it’ll be interesting to see if Haeg can perform well enough to convince the staff and fan base that they do have a reliable backup from here on out.
Jordan Wilkins | RB
Wilkins has just been so good since the Colts strapped the pads on. Everything we’ve talked about up to this point in terms of expectations have been revealed to be true. We watched his tape and realized that his vision, patience and surprising ability to get up to full speed quickly were something that needed to translate. So far, it has.
Wilkins is pushing for starter reps, can catch the ball in the flat or across the middle and is showing a little more speed than I expected once he breaks through to the second level of the defense. Pairing him with Marlon Mack seems ideal. Adding another weapon like Nyheim Hines is an added bonus and will theoretically give the Colts a fun three-headed monster for teams to deal with.
Wilkins hasn’t wavered in practice, has become a daily reminder that he can handle the rise in competition from Ole Miss and that he just may be a weapon in his own rite. Be excited Colts fans.
Deon Cain | WR
Our third receiver on this list, and he just may be the most impressive of the bunch when it’s all said and done. As I mentioned earlier, this is a good development as the position was expected to be a real concern heading into the season.
From the start of camp to now, I think it’s fair to move Cain into the WR4 spot. He’s been a playmaker early, and even though he’s not continued to make big flashy plays each and every day, he’s remained consistent and reliable at the very least.
Cain has displayed the speed, route running ability and amazing body control that you would expect to see from an early-round draft pick. Yes, he was considered to have top-level talent, but he dropped and the Colts now are the beneficiaries of a ticked off, 6-foot-2 pass catcher with 4.43 speed and one massive chip on his shoulder.
Just as the rest of this list, Cain will have to put it all out on the field in a game before any of us can truly believe what he offers. But, there’s no mistaking his potential and that he’s absolutely determined to reach it.
There are more guys who could probably have made this list. Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, Margus Hunt and Zaire Franklin — just to name a few — have all looked good in practice and are rising in one way or another. However, this group above have been the most noticeable, either from my vantage point or via the coaching staff doubling down on their importance.
This is a solid group to keep your eyes on, but let’s not pretend that we’re not going to be watching each and every player in order to see what they have to offer in a real game scenario. Colts football is almost here, folks.