The first weekend of the 2019 Indianapolis Colts training camp is in the books, and it is exciting to officially have this team working together in team activities. As always, everything from training camp should be taken with a grain of salt. There are some things that just don’t mean all that much in camp, because the opportunity to have guys at full go is infrequent.
The true litmus test of all these players will come during real game action, where some of the camp standouts tend to fade. There has been one player I’ve been watching so far that I don’t think will fall victim to that fate, however.
Rookie WR Parris Campbell has been having exactly the kind of camp the Colts hoped he would--looking good on offense with a slew of highlight plays, saying and doing the right things, and making himself a hit with the fans. On a roster whose starting lineup is all but set, there is little more that you could ask for than what Campbell has given so far.
Let’s start with the on-field play. Campbell is such a smooth player, making fluid direction changes and getting out of his breaks with ease. It is a little deceptive, because he is incredibly fast, but that speed sneaks up on you a bit. He is a far better route runner than perhaps he was given credit for.
Ask CB Jalen Collins, who got burned during 1-on-1 drills at the goal line by a slippery move from Campbell.
Not often a guy creates this amount of separation in this part of the field.— Kevin Bowen (@KBowen1070) July 28, 2019
Hello, Parris Campbell. pic.twitter.com/OpC4HxydM7
Nothing about the move said “speedster.” He simply looks like a solid route runner. Perhaps the best part? The toe tap finish. The Colts would love to see Campbell put his known skill set to work. Getting a solid contributor in the screen game and in yards after the catch would be a huge addition to this offense. However, it would be a mistake to believe that’s all he has to offer.
Additionally, it also doesn’t hurt that Campbell is building quality relationships on the team and speaks honestly and humbly about expectations. Most indicative of that might be the way he was spoken about by star receiver T.Y. Hilton.
Here’s what Hilton said came to mind when asked about Campbell at the start of camp:
“Speed. He’s very fast. Also another guy that’s willing to learn. Always in my head asking me questions, and I love that about him because I did it to Reggie.”
Hilton laughed when talking about it, and showed every indication that he was truly impressed by the young receiver both in terms of his work ethic and his drive. That speaks volumes coming from a player who was painted with a bit of the same brush as Hilton coming out. Hilton was labeled as the speedy deep threat player and not much else. He has managed to make himself into one of the best receivers in the NFL, and linking up with a great mentor in Reggie Wayne was a big reason why.
Now follow that up with Campbell’s statements at camp on Friday:
“I’m really just watching him (Hilton) closely. Obviously I’ve gotta worry about myself, but just kind of watching how he approaches practice, the meeting room, just everything really. Just trying to get little nuggets.”
“I’ve learned a lot. Honestly, just looking at his play, just how he runs his routes, man, is just effortlessly. He gives the DBs no tells, everything’s just so smooth. Even today, he had a release on the outside and I just kind of wanted to go up to him and get a nugget to see what he saw and what he did, just so I can add things to my game.”
This mentality is exactly the kind that can help a young player grow. Humility, the hunger to be better, and the willingness to seek out help are traits that, when paired with the raw ability of someone like Campbell, can make big things happen in a hurry.
The Colts have said the plan is to work Campbell primarily out of the slot until he develops some mastery there. That is perfect, because it allows him to do what he is most comfortable with as he grows and expands his skills as a player.
Frank Reich didn’t hedge when talking about the rookie’s performance at the end of their first set of 4 practices during which Campbell had two touchdown grabs.
“The two plays he made in the red zone today weren’t, you know, hybrid, gadget, slot receiver type plays. They were legit NFL ‘I’m gonna be a stud receiver’ type plays.”
There were many who just weren’t sure Campbell could do more than be a screen guy. He wasn’t asked to do much beyond that at Ohio State, and that left too many unknowns for some scouts to be comfortable with. Through the first quarter of training camp, what he has put on the field is as good as the Colts could have hoped for.
Another thing that has been impressive about Campbell is his interaction with the fans. One of the things that set Reggie Wayne apart was his willingness to engage with his fans and it quickly endeared him to the Colts faithful.
As I stood in the media scrum on Friday after camp, waiting to hear from Campbell, I couldn’t help but be impressed by his willingness to speak with and sign autographs for as many fans as came up to see him. I couldn't tell you for certain how long he was at it, but a Colts staff person had to finally go get him so that he could do his scheduled media availability.
While that undoubtedly irritated some who were on a deadline to submit stories, it spoke volumes about the player. Fans are the reason all this exists, and Parris Campbell took time to engage with them. Hopefully there will be kids looking back in 20 years on that experience and remembering with awe the time they got to talk to a Colts legend in the making.
Is that how this story unfolds? It is too early to tell. But if you’re asking me what I think? The Colts have a star in the making.