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Colts to get more physical in training camp

The logic seems infallible: in order to become a better tackler, you must practice tackling.

It follows, therefore, that since the Colts have been a poor tackling team for several years, they are wise to spend more time actually tackling each other during training camp.

But the decision to ramp up the physicality this year is aimed at much more than just improving the team’s ability to tackle. It’s about establishing a more aggressive mindset right away, not waiting until the start of the season -- or, in the Colts’ case, traditionally the third game of the year -- to flip the switch.

It’s also about giving the front office and coaching staff a more complete body of work in order to better evaluate the players on hand. With so many new faces, a large number of them extremely young, the Colts are not just a mystery to their fans.

“You know, it’s hard (to evaluate) right now because we haven’t had pads on,” said GM Chris Ballard earlier this week. “You get a very false sense of who your team is in OTAs because there are no pads on. When we get the pads on, I’ll have a better indication of where we’re at.”

This is, of course, of paramount importance to the overhauled defense, which could have between eight and 10 new starters entering the regular season. With so much transition, it’s a natural time to try to establish a higher baseline of physicality.

There are risks, of course, but it’s not as if the Colts are going to have full-scale live scrimmages every day. But the plan is to have more live sessions. In the past, the Colts have used the “thud” technique in practice, making initial contact but not finishing the tackle. The problem is, they’ve continued that tendency in the games.

“It’ll be a little bit more physical,” Ballard said. “Look, it’s hard to be a physical team if you don’t want to have a physical training camp. I think it really comes to light when you get into November and December. Having a physical training camp, me and Chuck have talked a long time about this, and he’s in agreement, it doesn’t mean we’re tackling to the ground every day. But what it means is we’re going to have a few more live sessions than they’ve had in the past.”

While the trend in the NFL is toward less contact in order to decrease the possibility of injuries, the Colts have actually endured some of their most severe issues in non-contact situations. Running back Vick Ballard went down twice -- blowing out his knee in 2013 and an Achilles tendon in 2014 -- in non-contact drills. Guard Donald Thomas re-injured a torn quadriceps muscle in a training camp drill in 2014. 

“We’ve talked long and hard about that,” Pagano said last month in his most recent interview. “You’re always scared to death, but at the same time if you don’t tackle, it’s hard to get good at tackling. We do, obviously, a lot of what we call thud. It’s first contact, it’s wrap up and you try to stay off the ground as much as you can and take care of each other. But we’ll continue to have discussions regarding that and there may be some periods come training camp that we decide we want to go live here. 

“Until you do that, you get to the preseason and usually that first or second preseason game is an eye-opener for a lot of the guys, especially the young guys until they adapt to the speed of the game.”

Players report Saturday, with the first practice open to the public Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Because no pads are allowed the first three days of camp, the hitting can’t really begin until Tuesday.

After that? We’ll see. But all indications are this will be the most physical of Pagano’s six camps.

Photo of Chuck Pagano by Getty Images