The Indianapolis Colts completed their fifth padded practice session out of 9 on Sunday afternoon. It was a maintenance day for numerous players who have been nursing some injuries.
After experiencing back spasms during Saturday’s practice, linebacker Darius Leonard watched from the sidelines. Kenny Moore sat out for the first time this training camp. Others who have been sitting quite a bit recently include Andrew Luck, Jack Doyle, Denico Autry, Jabaal Sheard and Parris Campbell. Justin Houston, Ryan Kelly and Ross Travis all joined them on the sidelines on Sunday.
Two players had to leave the field on Sunday. Running back Jonathan Williams was shaken up during team drills and walked off of the field with trainers under his own power. Initial reports indicate that he will be okay. Wide receiver Devin Funchess also gave fans a scare when he came up limping badly after running a route in team drills. He was suffering from a calf cramp and spent the rest of the day watching from the sidelines.
Keeping in mind that several key defensive players were not on the field, including Justin Houston, Denico Autry and Kenny Moore, we got a look at couple of different groupings during team drills.
Al-Quadin Muhammed, Tyquan Lewis, Margus Hunt and Kemoko Turay took snaps with the first team defensive line. Anthony Walker, Bobby Okereke and E.J. Speed were on the field with the base defense at linebacker. Khari Willis and Malik Hooker were the safeties. Pierre Desir was on the field with the starting corners but I couldn’t locate the corner on the far side of the field before first team reps ended.
Gerri Green took snaps with the second team at left end. Matthias Farley and George Odum took the field as the second team safeties. Marvell Tell and Jalen Collins were the second team corners.
TEAM DRILL HIGHLIGHTS
Perennial Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton put his mark all over Sunday’s practice. He made two nice touchdown grabs on passes from Jacoby Brissett. One took him down the middle of the field against Quincy Wilson who could not make up ground after Hilton got a first step. The second was a deep corner route for a touchdown against Pierre Desir, who also couldn’t keep up down the field.
It should be noted that Hilton is a true professional. When the rest of the team is working on special teams drills and some of the veteran players are essentially set free to watch or do whatever it is they do at these times, Hilton is working on his release from the line of scrimmage and on his footwork.
Daurice Fountain also made a number of nice plays in team drills. He caught a ball thrown deep middle against Rock Ya-Sin, an impressive contested catch. He also made a nice grab on the left sideline with Marvell Tell in coverage.
Deon Cain continues to make nice plays as well. He caught a ball on a short out to the left sideline and made a nice move to pick up extra yards. He later made an impressive catch deep to the left on the sideline but was ruled out of bounds. Either way, he has shown flashes of excellent hands and concentration.
Defensively, cornerback Jalen Collins knocked down a pass intended for Marcus Johnson. Kemoko Turay batted down Jacoby Brissett’s first pass attempt. Defensive tackle Caraun Reid and end Carroll Phillips collapsed the pocket for a would-be sack with the second team.
Chester Rogers, Nyheim Hines and Zach Pascal were all back to return punts during special teams drills. It is quite clear that the player who is the most comfortable returning punts is Rogers. He fields the ball cleanly and is the most comfortable finding room to run. This skill set could very easily separate him from other receivers who are hoping to win a spot on the roster.
Another way players make the roster is to show their value on punt coverage units. The starting gunners were George Odum and Chris Milton, two of the best special teams players on the team in 2018. Next up was Nate Hairston and Marcus Johnson. One has to wonder if this isn’t accidental. Both of these players will need to show value outside of what they can do on offense or defense to stick with the team.
The last group was Mathias Farley and Rock Ya-Sin. Farley could be in a similar boat as a player who has been one of the best special teams contributors and might need that edge to stay in Indianapolis.
One of the more entertaining periods during each training camp practice is the one-on-one receiver versus secondary drills. Fans get a wide open view at how each player approaches the play and don’t miss the details of a crisp route or the athleticism it takes to stick in coverage and make a play on the ball. Here are some of the highlights from Sunday.
Tight End Hale Hentges v Safety Mathias Farley
This was likely the play of the day during one-on-one periods. Hentges shows some impressive speed to beat Farley and excellent concentration to pull in a contested catch on his way to the ground. He wasn’t done doing work on Farley.
No tight end is taking greater advantage of Jack Doyle sitting on the sidelines than Hale Hentges. He has flashed ability throughout training camp and will be an interesting player to watch in preseason.
For a team that is already sporting two Pro Bowl tight ends in Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, along with one of the league’s top breakout candidates at the position in Mo Alie-Cox, Hentges could represent an embarrassment of riches. He could have placed himself squarely in a battle with Ross Travis for the fourth tight end spot on the roster, if Frank Reich and Chris Ballard think that keeping four is the best choice.
Tight End Mo Alie-Cox v Safety Malik Hooker
While Mo Alie-Cox has had some up and down moments during training camp, one thing stands out. There is no one on the defense who has been able to handle him on short, contested routes. He has shown the ability to use his athleticism to gain position and the strength and concentration to regularly bring down these tough catches.
The buzz in camp about Mo Alie-Cox is that he may very well be the best blocking tight end on the team. Absent injury or a major setback, expect to see more of him in 2019.
Wide Receiver Chester Rogers v Cornerback Jalen Collins
As mentioned earlier, Rogers is clearly the most comfortable player fielding punts on the team. His biggest competition may be Penny Hart and he has been unable to practice.
Don’t sleep on his ability to make plays as a receiver either. He shows excellent footwork and burst to gain separation on his routes and once the ball is in his hand he can make some things happen. It is no mystery why Frank Reich likes to use him on wide receiver screens as often as he does.
Wide Receiver Daurice Fountain v Cornerback Jalen Collins
As noted above, Fountain had a strong performance on Sunday. He made nice plays in team drills and looked good in one-on-ones. He makes a nice move to get a clean break against Jalen Collin on this in-route.
Cornerback Quincy Wilson v Wide Receiver Jordan Veasy
Not every play went in favor of the offense. There were overthrown passes, dropped balls and plays where the defender knocked the ball away. In this play, Quincy Wilson recovers after a double-move by Jordan Veasy and knocks the ball away.
I had the opportunity to sit in on two coach interviews at the end of practice. The first, shorter interview was with RB Coach Tom Rathman who discussed Marlon Mack’s development in training camp this season and responded to my question about how the team will approach losing Spencer Ware to injury.
He noted that Marlon missed much of training camp last year and didn’t get a chance to complete one-on-one work. He saw this training camp as an opportunity for him to make up for what he missed.
The second interview was with legendary OL Coach Howard Mudd. He handled a variety of questions and offered some insight into what brought him back to the game, what he sees in Quenton Nelson, and how he judges the performance of his offensive line that doesn’t necessarily show up on a stat sheet.
He made it quite clear that Chris Strausser is a friend and that his decision to return was tied to his being hired by the Colts. He also discussed that a lot goes into a successful block. He mentioned that getting the ball out on time, route running and blocking go into a successful play.
Regarding Nelson, Mudd said that he has a live spirit that he shares with those around him. He expects him to get better and Mudd said the Nelson wants to focus on his technique. Mudd noted that no one during his previous tenure in Indianapolis really reminds him of Nelson. The best physical comparison he could give was Tarik Glenn.
Watch the video for details about what Mudd focuses on and wants from the offensive line. He discusses how different his aggressive jump-set pass blocking philosophy is from the vertical set. A lot of offensive line coaches ask offensive linemen to step back and Mudd notes that leads to the pocket collapsing. He remembered that Dwight Freeney ran over Joe Thomas for a sack that led to a win against the Browns while he was in Indianapolis and used it as an example of the weaknesses of vertical sets in pass blocking.