Evaluating Colts Position Groups Heading Into Preseason Opener
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INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts have completed 11 of their 18 Training Camp practices.
Frank Reich’s emphasis on establishing a culture of toughness has been seen with the team already having 7 full-padded practices at Grand Park.
With the Colts on the verge of their preseason opener, let’s analyze each position group through the first two weeks of camp:
Quarterback: All things considered, Andrew Luck has had a very impressive two weeks. He knocked off first-day rust, showed progression in his velocity and has made virtually all the throws in team drills. Now, it’s time to see Luck in an uncontrolled setting. Jacoby Brissett has looked solid, although the Colts have thrown out a bit of hyperbole in saying they wouldn’t give up a first-round pick for the backup quarterback. You would do that in a heartbeat, especially given Luck’s apparent health. Also, calling Brissett a top-20 quarterback is a bit of a reach. Nonetheless, the Colts do (and should) feel very good about their top two quarterbacks.
Running Back: The Colts are backing up their chatter of rotating backs in 2018. Marlon Mack is the starter through two weeks at Grand Park, but the Colts have not hesitated at all from rotating ball carriers. Nyheim Hines gives you some gadget play ability, while lining up all over the field. Fellow draft pick Jordan Wilkins has been a nice surprise as he looks to factor into some offensive role early in the season. Wilkins, compared to Hines, is a more natural fit as an every down back. Veteran Christine Michael could very well round out this group, if the Colts feel good about these 4 running backs with Robert Turbin out until Week 5.
Wide Receiver: It sounds (and looks) like T.Y. Hilton and Ryan Grant are definitely atop this depth chart. Chester Rogers and Deon Cain have some ground to make up, to catch Grant. The rapport of Luck and Hilton seems to have picked right up where it left off. Grant has shown his reliability, although Luck has airmailed him a few times. Rogers needs a little more consistency with the starting offense if he wants that No. 2 wideout job. Cain has been one of the more impressive rookies and is looking at early playing time. By most standards, it’s been kind of a quiet start to camp for the wideouts, as Luck has really peppered the tight ends and running backs with passes.
Tight End: This group figured to be a big focal point of the 2018 offense and that’s been the case in watching things at Grand Park. Jack Doyle is your in-line option, who is still steady in the passing game. Eric Ebron is more of your detached tight end, causing mismatches outside. Behind those two, the Colts have a great race brewing. If they keep 4 tight ends, it looks to be the receiving options of Erik Swoope and Ross Travis, plus more of the blocker in Darrell Daniels, competing to round out the deepest position group on the roster.
Offensive Line: The injury bug has hurt one of the most important players on the roster. Anthony Castonzo’s re-tweak of his right hamstring has him sidelined until probably the latter stages of August. The Colts, like most NFL teams, do not have many quality options at left tackle without the durable and consistent Castonzo. Besides Castonzo, the Colts have a solid interior with Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Matt Slauson practicing together for 10 of 11 practices. Veteran Austin Howard looks to be the favorite at right tackle with Denzelle Good banged up. Second-round pick Braden Smith still is running with the second unit, playing more at right guard, than right tackle.
Defensive Line: This new four-man front has three starters locked in (Al Woods, Denico Autry and Jabaal Sheard) and then a wide-open battle at the other defensive end spot. Autry has been a bright spot for a unit really needing some disruption up front. Remember, the Colts ideally would not commit a bunch of blitzing resources to the pass rush, so there’s some major pressure on this room. The Colts have rotated several guys at the end spot opposite Sherad (Tarell Basham, John Simon, Kemoko Turay and even Margus Hunt).
Linebacker: Outside of Castonzo, the other somewhat big injury news at Grand Park came with Anthony Walker pulling his groin. Walker was the definite starter at the MIKE position, before the injury. Now, the Colts have starters in Darius Leonard (WILL) and Najee Goode (SAM). Will Walker be back in time to supplant undrafted free agent Skai Moore as the signal caller of this defense? Leonard has had a nice rookie debut after missing the entire spring with a quad injury.
Cornerback: This is a tough position group to get a great read on. Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore and Quincy Wilson have probably received the most starting reps, with Moore kicking into the nickel spot when those packages are used. It’s weird that Nate Hairston has been demoted after a pretty strong rookie season. The playing time here is still pretty open though as the Colts use some more zone looks from their corners in 2018.
Safety: With the Colts about a month away from the regular season opener, it’s good news that both Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker are off the physically unable to perform list. If Hooker can join Geathers in getting involved into some team reps next week, that will be great news for their availability in Week 1. Behind those two, the Colts should continue to feel good about having Matthias Farley as a calming/intelligent presence. T.J. Green missed a few practices, allowing for some lesser name safeties to enter the roster fight mix.
Special Teams: The only real question here is what do the return spots look like. On the depth chart, Nyheim Hines is the guy at kick and punt return. Do the Colts really want to give a rookie those responsibilities, while also having him in a multi-faceted role on offense? It appears so, with Hines having a pretty mature makeup to him.