Return of fab five boosts Colts
(From L) Ballard, Bradshaw, Allen, Thomas and Wayne are back in action. (Photos: Icon SMI)
For many, particularly the more veteran players, training camp is a necessary evil, something to be survived, not cherished.
It’s a little different for a handful of Colts. For Reggie Wayne, Donald Thomas, Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw, the ability to step onto the practice field at Anderson University for the first set of two-a-day practices Thursday represented a long-awaited, highly anticipated milestone.
All five, all starters, were among the 17 Colts players to finish last season on injured reserve. And all five, all medically cleared, are back. Maybe not all the way, maybe not yet, but they’re on the field with their teammates, not rehabbing with the medical staff.
With all due respect to the incoming free agents and draft picks, the return of this fab five represents the most significant influx of difference-making talent for the 2014 Colts.
“Any time you get five starters back that you lost a year ago from the offense, you’ve got to be excited,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Optimism is obviously very high, enthusiasm, confidence level of all the other players. We had some guys, young guys got thrust into the front line and they got valuable, valuable playing time which will pay dividends, just in case, down the road. Certainly, we feel really good about getting all those guys back.”
Between them, Wayne (ACL), Ballard (ACL), Thomas (quadriceps), Allen (hip) and Bradshaw (neck) missed a combined 66 games last season. Allen and Ballard went down after the opener, Thomas in the first quarter of the second game. Bradshaw made it three games while Wayne lasted seven.
In the absence of setbacks, Wayne will bring back much-needed consistency, experience and production to the wide receiver corps; Thomas stability to the interior of the offensive line; and Allen the rare combination of power blocking in the run game and downfield mismatch in the passing game.
After his first full practice Thursday afternoon, Wayne said he felt "pretty doggone good," although he wished Pagano wouldn't have pulled him from practice halfway through as a precaution.
"They’re bringing the lefty in on me, took me out kind of early but I’m just doing what they tell me to do. Other than that, it felt like old Reg," he said. "That’s the thing, we want to stay the course, even if I don’t agree to it. I’ll give coach Pagano the first round; he won this first round. I wanted to come in and kind of slowly get my way into it. I did more than half of practice. I wanted to do the whole thing but he pulled me out, he said it was enough, and we’ll continue to build off that."
Ballard and Bradshaw will battle Trent Richardson, who also needed minor offseason surgery on his shoulder, for running back reps.
“It was kind of weird because it was my first time being in the huddle since I got hurt, really,” said Ballard, who injured his knee without contact during a practice. “It felt good, though …It wasn’t different, but it’s different from what I’ve been doing the past couple months.
“I’m happy, man. Lined up to look at a defense for the first time in a long time makes me feel good.”
With more than six weeks until the regular season opener Sept. 7 in Denver, there is no need to push the comeback crew, despite their eagerness to get back into the thick of things. When it was suggested during minicamp he might be held out of some practices early in camp, Wayne said he might need boxing gloves to convince Pagano that wasn’t necessary.
Cooler heads, however, will prevail, at least for the time being.
“We’re going to be really smart and do our due diligence with every one of those guys,” Pagano said. “We’ll protect them from themselves. I don’t have my boxing gloves; Reggie brought a couple pairs, just in case. Reggie is ready to go, Vick’s ready to go, Donald’s back, Dwayne’s back, Ahmad’s back, all those guys are back and ready to go. But we’re going to be smart with them, we’ll monitor the reps, we’ll give them a pitch count.
“There may be days when you won’t see them out there; that’s because of me. They may practice, some guys coming off an injury, guys getting up in age, where they go a couple days and then we give them a day off here and there, we monitor their reps. We’ve got to be smart.”
Ultimately, this is more of a return to the old look than a new look for the Colts. But when Luck lines up behind center, he’ll welcome the influx of familiar faces. The only player with a significant medical issue is fullback Stanley Havili, on the Physically Unable to Perform list while rehabbing a shoulder injury
“I am sure it will be fun to look around and see the guys but its practice as usual,” said Andrew Luck, who managed quite nicely last season despite the ever-changing offensive personnel. “We have been doing it forever. You go out and you play.
“It will be nice to have all those guys back but I don’t think anybody will be like, ‘Oh man look at us. Here we go.’ ”
- Safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Vontae Davis participated in the morning walk-through but were held out of the afternoon practice as a precaution, a team official said. Landry and Davis both missed time during minicamp with what were described by the team as "soft tissue" issues.
- Bjoern Werner was the defensive player of the day, creating plays that led to a pair of touchdowns. On the first, he intercepted Andrew Luck and pitched the ball to D'Qwell Jackson, who ran it in. On the second, he deflected at Matt Hasselbeck pass that Cory Redding snagged and took into the end zone.
- Offensively, T.Y. Hilton had a huge day with 10 receptions, but a couple of bubble players were impressive, as well. Wide receiver Tony Washington made a couple of long grabs, and running back Chris Rainey showed nice burst and elusiveness on runs and receptions into the second level of the defense.