It’s that time of year again. We’ve seen the Captain Andrew Luck account start to tweet again - football is back.
With training camp kicking off, I’ve quickly previewed what - and who - to look for as the Colts organization gets back into the thick of things.
Here are 5 things to look for during as Colts Training Camp commences:
1. Deon Cain needs to make noise
I know receivers almost always get positive publicity during training camp and OTA’s (and it’s important to not overreact to it), but in Cain’s case, he really needs it.
An extremely talented 2nd year player out of Clemson, Cain’s rookie season was entirely written off due to a torn ACL - almost exactly at this same time a year ago. The 6th Round pick went on to redshirt the year and is now healthy and ready to compete for a 2019 roster spot.
Unfortunately, that same weak wideout corps from last year evolved into a loaded group, with off-season acquisitions Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell complimenting returnees T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal and Chester Rogers. With those first 4 names being virtual locks for the roster, Cain needs to make his presence known - and make it known fast. There’s no reason he can’t, but let’s just say history hasn’t been kind to 6th Round wideouts put in the same position.
The former Clemson Tiger will need to beat out the likes of Rogers, fellow 6th Round sophomore Daurice Fountain, speedy sleeper Marcus Johnson, and undrafted free agents Penny Hart and Ashton Dulin if he wants a spot on the final 53. He can do it - but he’ll need to make noise early and often in order to do so.
2. Raw rookies are in for a treat
I loved the Colts’ 2019 draft strategy, but it isn’t one that’s likely to make an immediate impact out on the football field. Expecting a replica of the loaded 2018 class just isn’t realistic, and in camp, we’ll get to see the severity of just how unrealistic those expectations are. Raw in nature, the 2019 class simply isn’t pro-ready (save for a few exceptions), and we’re likely to see that come to fruition in camp.
For example, Ben Banogu will need to go from playing out of a two-point stance at TCU to playing along the EDGE and potentially as an LB. Meanwhile, Parris Campbell will have a steep learning curve going from gadget player to a more polished and sophisticated wideout. And that doesn’t even cover Rock Ya-Sin or Bobby Okereke - each players with brilliant flashes who need more balanced and consistent games.
Ultimately, Chris Ballard went for high upside players and elite athletes with the majority of his 2019 class - and that strategy will likely pay huge dividends down the road. But in their first training camp? Maybe not so much.
3. Ball-Carrier Battle
Marlon Mack is pretty much locked into the “bell-cow” role. Nyheim Hines has his pass-catching role cemented and ready to go. Besides that? Everything is wide open.
Former Chief Spencer Ware was signed in April and currently is on the PUP list as training camp begins. He’s a tough and versatile runner who seems to fit the mold the team is going for. Meanwhile, Jordan Wilkins returns after a decent rookie campaign but needs a strong pre-season to cement his status on the permanent roster. Finally, the wildcard is former Arkansas Razorback Johnathan Williams. A 5th Round pick back in 2016, Williams has the same rambunctious attitude of Wilkins and may surprise once camp gets going.
Ultimately it will be interesting to see who - if any - separate themselves from the pack. Will Indy keep 4 RB’s? Only 3? Training camp will go a long way in deciding just that.
4. Defensive Line depth
Probably the biggest weakness on the team as it stands today, the Colts have a bit of a depth issue along the interior. Denico Autry and Margus Hunt may be locked into their respective roles, but the roster looks really thin past that point.
Given this - and with having added Justin Houston and Ben Banogu on the outside - does this mean Tyquan Lewis plays on the interior? Will Grover Stewart take the next step and fortify the rotation? Can undrafted free agent Sterling Shippy do enough to crack the roster?
Hopefully, all of these questions have a clear answer by the end of camp.
5. Undrafted Underdogs
We talked earlier about how it’ll be an uphill battle for Deon Cain to make the roster. Well, if Cain is facing a hill, that means UDFA’s Penny Hart and Ashton Dulin are looking at a full-on mountain.
A Senior Bowl darling, the diminutive Hart (5’8”, 180 lbs.) is an electrifying presence in the slot, possessing exceptional footwork and quick COD ability. Although his size is an absolute killer, he’s got a shot at a spot behind T.Y. Hilton - even if it is microscopic.
Dulin is less known and not quite on the same level, but also an exciting playmaker. Dominating touches at Malone University, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares against a dramatic rise in competition.
Ultimately neither is likely to make the final roster, but it’ll be fun to see how they progress and compete throughout camp.