I can't say that I was a huge fan of today's practice. There was a slight drizzle through most of the morning and early afternoon, and the entire day just had a gloomy feeling about it. This is not what a Colts training camp is supposed to be like!
Oh well. Football is football. And despite the dull atmosphere, the Colts defense looked the most animated it's been all training camp, staying physical with the offense all afternoon. After all the offensive fireworks fireworks over the last few days, it was an entertaining practice that helped mix things up.
Here's my thoughts after watching the afternoon practice:
- The Colts ran through a light scrimmage for about an hour today. While Andrew Luck looked impressive during it, going 17 of 22 with no TDs and no INTs, the defense didn't make it easy on him. This was the first practice where the pass rush was really going 100 percent at getting after the quarterback, and they succeeded. Sometimes it was hard to keep track of where it all was coming from. I noticed Erik Walden and Bjoern Werner in particular winning some of their battles, but the honest truth is that every defense from the 1s to the 3s was beating the opposing offensive line. George Bremer noticed a great play by Josh Chapman that I didn't catch that epitomizes the battles in the trenches:
- Chapman really stood out on defense today. He consistently occupies two blockers and eats up as much space as three normal people would. "Thick" is the word that always comes into my mind whenever I see him. As long as there aren't any more injuries to the nose tackles, the rotation between him and Aubrayo Franklin looks like it could be 10000000x better than anything we saw from Antonio Johnson last season. And trust me, that's not a hyperbole. At all.
- Ricky Jean-Francois looks like a three-down player on defense. He's one of the only defensive linemen who is playing in almost every formation, whether in the 3-4 or 4-3. And he looks good doing it. I got to see him up close during interior line drills, and on one play, he just took Donald Thomas and threw him to the ground. Impressive work. He's one of the standout free agent signings through four days.
- Justice Cunningham looks like a good player. Unlike Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, he is never lining up in the slot. That doesn't mean he doesn't have any receiving skills, though. He proved that by making two intermediate catches in between traffic today. I've liked his blocking so far, too. I don't want to take anything away from Dominique Jones because I think he's had a good camp as well, but Cunningham looks like an ideal No. 3 tight end for the roster. I think the Colts will end up keeping him if he continues to show this kind of play during the preseason.
- One of the most interesting wrinkles in the new offense are the plays that push the running backs out wide. I saw both Stanley Havili and Vick Ballard lining up as a split end on two separate times during practice. It's definitely something to look for during preseason, though I doubt they'll give away too many secrets before the real games starts.
- Luck noticeably has more underneath options than he did last year. The lack of a checkdown option was something I always hated about Arians' vertical offense, so I'm happy to see that Hamilton is ending that. Luck looks more comfortable and less mistake-prone now whenever he can't find anything downfield.
- A player always has to come off the field whenever Havili comes on, and right now that player looks like Dwayne Allen, not Coby Fleener. Since Allen is usually used as a blocker, that makes sense on paper. As much as I want to fret over seeing this initial rotation, I'm going to stay level-headed. The Colts are definitely committed to moving all of their players around in the offense, as shown by the fullback being split out wide, so I don't see the offense becoming predictable or operating with its best players on the sidelines too often. The Colts just realize that they have a lot of different weapons to use, and they're trying to incorporate them in new ways to make the offense even more dangerous.
- Fleener didn't have as good a practice as he did yesterday. He had two drops that I counted. Still, he's working as one of the top options in the first-team offense, which is good to see.
- Heyward-Bey was one of the best wide receivers on the field today. Seriously. He brought in the lone deep pass of the afternoon, going up high to secure an underthrown ball from Luck. 50 yards, if not more. I liked his consistency catching the ball through multiple routes. Positive signs are coming from him.
- I spent time analyzing Griff Whalen's route running today. I came away with two things: His burst out of the snap is a little slow, and his routes need to be more precise. His speed is concerning to me, despite the 4.48 40 time that I heard before. But I can't deny that he still knows how to get open and secure the ball. He's as reliable as it gets right now.
- Rookie kicker Brandon McManus missed only two field goals out of 10 or 12 from what I saw. One of them hit the bottom crossbar and bounced out too. He has some decent range and showed some consistency. There's a 99.9 percent chance that he won't make the roster, but screw it. It's news, right?
- The injury bug couldn't stay away for long. Kellan Heard, Hugh Thornton, Martin Tevaseu, Khaled Holmes and LaVon Brazill all sat out practice with injuries, while Mario Harvey and Greg Toler were injured during practice. Holmes has joined Thornton in wearing a boot. Toler had to be escorted off the field near the end of practice after he took a hard fall, which turned out to be a concussion. We haven't been told the extent of the recent injuries or how long the players will be out. That should probably come tomorrow.
I'm a little concerned with how little the undrafted free agents have shown so far. Usually one of two has made a few plays by this point in camp. But maybe that's a sign how much better the Colts depth has become in only a year or so. We might not know until the first preseason game.
There is no morning walk through tomorrow. Practice is scheduled for its normal 1:50 time. Let's just hope there isn't any rain this time. And make sure you follow me on Twitter (@andrewmishler) if you haven't already.