Colts Day One Minicamp Notebook: Rookie Defenders Receive Starting Chances
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INDIANAPOLIS – Just two practices remain before summer vacation for the Indianapolis Colts.
Tuesday brought the first mini-camp practice of 2019, with the mandatory aspect of the offseason not really applying to a team that has had tremendous attendance throughout the spring.
Andrew Luck (calf strain) will miss this week’s mini-camp, and thus a third straight spring of team practices.
Here were Luck’s comments on Tuesday about his calf, any throwing he has done this spring and his plan for Training Camp. Besides Luck, here is a notebook look from Day One of mini-camp:
- The Colts again opened up in a nickel defense on Tuesday with the following 11 guys ‘starting’: DE-Justin Houston, DT-Margus Hunt, DE-Jabaal Sheard, DT-Tyquan Lewis, LB-Bobby Okereke, LB-Anthony Walker, CB-Rock Ya-Sin, CB-Pierre Desir, CB-Kenny Moore, S-George Odum and S-Malik Hooker. Several injuries in the secondary gave Ya-Sin his first true ‘starting’ action of the spring. Sheard did return on Tuesday for this first work of the spring, but he was clearly on a pitch count.
- The Colts began Tuesday in a three wide receiver set with the following 11 guys ‘starting’: LT-Anthony Castonzo, LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Ryan Kelly, RG-Mark Glowinski, RT-Braden Smith, TE-Mo Alie-Cox, WR-Zach Pascal, WR-Devin Funchess, WR-Chester Rogers, RB-Marlon Mack, QB-Jacoby Brissett. After participating in the first two weeks of OTAs, WR-T.Y. Hilton has missed the last two weeks.
- Pierre Desir was dominant on Tuesday afternoon. He blanketed opposing receiver after opposing receiver in 1-on-1 reps. Desir also broke up a pass intended for Devin Funchess, which led to a deflected interception for Bobby Okereke. This was the aggressive Desir we saw late last season in winning matchups over DeAndre Hopkins and Amari Cooper.
- Tuesday was another quieter afternoon for Devin Funchess. He did appear to haul in a deep pass early in the 11-on-11 period, but his overall targets/receptions number was small. From the 4 open practices the media has seen so far this spring, Funchess and Jacoby Brissett have been more off than on, especially when you consider that T.Y. Hilton has been sidelined the last two weeks, pushing Funchess into that No. 1 receiver role, which should lend to more targets.
- The Colts were down 3 corners on Tuesday, and you could easily slot that trio into the 3, 4 and 5 spots on the depth chart entering mini-camp. With Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston and Chris Milton sidelined, that opened the door for rookie Rock Ya-Sin in the starting nickel group. Ya-Sin wasn’t targeted much but he more than held his own as an outside corner. The injuries on Tuesday also led to more frequent work for Jalen Collins, who also had a nice afternoon. It’s going to be so hard to pair this cornerback group down to 5 or 6 bodies at final cuts.
- Bobby Okereke might be the rookie who has seen the most first-team action so far this spring. Now, with Darius Leonard out, it has opened up gobs of reps, especially on passing downs. On Tuesday, the pairing of Anthony Walker and Okereke was a popular duo in 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 sessions. You immediately notice the speed of Okereke, even against the run. The Stanford linebacker was the recipient of the deflected INT that Desir caused.
- Frank Reich talked very specifically on Tuesday about the skillset that Spencer Ware brings to the Colts backfield. It might be what ultimately separates Ware from the rest of the Colts runners, thus placing him on the 53-man roster. “He’s very natural back there,” Reich said on Tuesday. “He understands the game. It comes easy to him. He sees it easy. I was also very attracted to his physical toughness. You can’t see that as much out here (without full pads on), but just knowing his past, watching tape on him and his mentality. He fits our mold. This is a tough dude, tough yards, not afraid to block. He is the kind of guy, not that we do much of this, but if you ever wanted to get into an I-formation, you can put him there. He is the kind of guy you can count on to get tough yardage. He has proven that in his career.”
- Speaking of Ware, Reich also touched on the running back rotation he expects to use in 2019: “It will be an on-going decision,” the head coach said. “The initial thought is yes, it will be much like last year. Marlon (Mack) is our main guy. Then from there, Nyheim (Hines) is the main third-down guy because of the stuff that he can do. Other than that, Jordan (Wilkins) and Jonathan (Williams) are vying for that other spot and Spencer (Ware) vying for that other spot to be Marlon’s mixer. And yeah, with Parris (Campbell) in the slot that could affect Nyheim a little bit. It would ultimately, probably affect him a little bit but that is a good thing. We will just continue to fine tune and by game plan, I think that is one of the things that we’ve done well is figure that out week-to-week how to apply the personnel against the defense that we’re playing.”
- While we are on the run game topic, much has been made about Frank Reich’s focus of improving that part of the offense this season. Reich said on Tuesday, the Colts will likely still be 60 percent pass and 40 percent run, but that still doesn’t mean they can’t be more effective running it. “It’s probably still 60-40 but you can still be a top-five rushing team running it. Maybe it’s a little bit more than 40, maybe it’s 58-42, whatever the case may be,” Reich noted. “Ultimately, we want to have more four-minute offense this year than we did last year. So that’s always a big thing about being a top-five rushing team, being more four-minute offense at the end of games. That always helps those numbers as well.”
- A Darius Leonard update from Tuesday: The linebacker did some jogging with the rehab staff as his original 6-week timetable following an ankle procedure will not hinder him from training during this upcoming summer break. Leonard will first head back to his home state of South Carolina before training in Florida in the coming weeks. He fully expects to be ready for the start of Training Camp.
- Reminder, here’s a look at some of the injured guys expected to be dialed back this spring. On Tuesday, guys sidelined included: DE-Denico Autry, WR-Deon Cain, TE-Jack Doyle, S-Clayton Geathers, CB-Nate Hairston, WR-Penny Hart, WR-T.Y. Hilton, LB-Darius Leonard, QB-Andrew Luck, CB-Chris Milton, TE-Ross Travis, DL-Jihad Ward, CB-Quincy Wilson (heavily wrapped right hand/wrist).
- Some of the guys that have dealt with injuries, but participated on Tuesday included: LB-Matthew Adams, WR-Parris Campbell, TE-Eric Ebron, S-Matthias Farley, S-Malik Hooker, DE-Justin Houston, DE-Jabaal Sheard, LB-Anthony Walker, RB-Spencer Ware. It was the first work of the spring for Ebron and Sheard.
- It hasn’t been a good last 10 days for a Colts team with such a huge emphasis on character. You’ve had a pair of suspensions for QB-Chad Kelly (2 games) and OT-Antonio Garcia (4 games) and then LB-Bobby Okereke’s name was revealed in a sexual assault allegation. These aren’t the most marquee names by any means, but the likes of Kelly and Garcia could very well be in the mix for a practice squad spot, and we’ve mentioned Okereke’s name above as an early impact guy.
- On Tuesday afternoon, the Colts announced a contract extension for long snapper Luke Rhodes. That means each of the Colts’ three specialists (Rhodes, Rigoberto Sanchez and Adam Vinatieri) have received new contracts this offseason. Rhodes, 26, was a converted linebacker two years ago and won the long snapping job over Thomas Hennessey in 2017. Rhodes has not only been a very sound long snapper, but he’s also excelled in punt coverage. The Colts first signed Rhodes as a linebacker to their practice squad in October 2016.
- The Colts will have 2 final mandatory mini-camp sessions on Wednesday and Thursday.