Finally, actual football is taking place.
After a couple months break for the players, training camp has begun. While preseason games don’t begin for the Colts until September 12th, training camp finally gives us a chance to look at real football, instead of exaggerated story lines and off the field incidents.
So, with a week in the books, what have we learned so far?
First, Andrew Luck is going to be good.
The amount of praise and respect that Luck has gotten during the first few practices has been unreal. Not only are the Manning comparisons in full swing (Gil Brandt went as far as saying that Luck looks like a “cloned Manning”), but the amount of adulation from his teammates has been staggering.
Luck has been routinely described as “looking like a third or fourth year player” on the field, and his teammates and coaches alike are lauding his command in the huddle and line of scrimmage. The fact that this level of comfort and confidence is present is just as important, if not more, than how he throws the ball in camp. We know that Luck can make the throws, but the fact that he can command the line of scrimmage right away is critical.
Of course, Luck’s also been able to pass the test in the physical department, being incredibly accurate throughout the week, generally completing between 70-80% of his passes. Luck hit numerous receivers for big gains, as well as showing an early chemistry with Austin Collie. The numbers are not nearly as important as the timing between him and his receivers. Luck seems to like Collie, which should translate well during the season, but according to Mike Chappell, Luck has been hitting ALL of his receivers in stride, a good sign this early in camp.
Quite frankly, there’s nothing left to find out about Luck until he’s in a real game. He has the attitude, the precision, the technique, the arm, everything. Now we just need to confirm that he can do it when the lights are on.
Second, while the team is young, the leadership on the team is poised to take command.
As we talked about in last week’s podcast, veterans like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have embraced their roles as leaders for the rookies and new members of the team. T.Y. Hilton talked to the media this week about Reggie Wayne, how he can just ask him any question and expect a response. The coaches, not just Chuck Pagano, but the coordinators as well, have been beaming about the veteran leadership.
Chuck Pagano’s leading as a coach has been highlighted as well, by people both inside and outside the organization. Tony Dungy was all praise after owner Jim Irsay asked him to come spend some time with the rookie head coach, calling Pagano and Luck reasons why the Colts would be “in good hands for a long time.”
Of course, Irsay and GM Ryan Grigson have been high on their new coach as well, and fans have taken a liking to the energetic approach. Pagano’s confrontation of a Steeler fan mid-practice was another moment that fans embraced, along with his polar opposite demeanor from 2011 coach Jim Caldwell.
Third, there are a lot of defensive holes to be filled.
The biggest gap is obviously in the secondary. Jerraud Powers and Antoine Bethea have been impressive, but the rest of the secondary has been inconsistent at best. Luck and his backup quarterbacks have all hit receivers for big gains, largely due to broken coverages. According to Nate Dunlevy, many of these long passes are coming on fourth down and red zone drills that should not be completed.
Perhaps when real hitting is allowed again, the secondary will look different, especially the new starting safety Tom Zbikowski. But what is most likely is that this secondary has a long way to go. If Greg Manusky’s exotic blitzes (of which there have been plenty so far this week) don’t get to the quarterback quickly, this secondary will likely be facing a very steep uphill battle.
There’s also questions at linebacker, although these largely revolve around the depth of the core. We really can’t judge the starters’ transition into the 3-4 until the first preseason game, but what we do know is that the depth behind them is extremely shaky. Of course, A.J. Edds’ season-ending knee injury doesn’t help, the group was thin to begin with.
The new additions in Moise Fokou and Greg Lloyd can hit, but whether they’ll fit in coverage has yet to be seen. Jerry Hughes is having a good camp, but he had a noticeable camp last season too, before disappearing during games. Jarell Freeman also looks to be competing for a depth spot, but outside of that, nothing much has been said about him. Scott Lutrus and Larry Lumpkin are in the mix, but again, there is no indication that they are standing out.
This defense could be passable in a few years, but unless something drastic happens, the Colts seem to be missing a few pieces.
Finally, the offensive line is still in flux.
Bruce Arians said earlier this week: “It’s still a work-in-progress. We’re not decided on the five guys, so to speak. We’ve got some good competition there at a couple of spots.”
We know that left guard is currently being hashed out between Jeff Linkenbach and Joe Reitz. Linkenbach has been taking first team snaps for most of the week, but we should see Reitz overtake him by the end of training camp. If not, then Linkenbach got much, much better at playing inside, or Reitz declined during the off-season.
If Arians is honest about a couple of spots being up for grabs, you have to wonder which ones they are. Presumably, left tackle Anthony Castonzo and center Samson Satele have their spots on lockdown, and with Linkenbach competing for a guard spot, there’s no right tackle that has the experience/ability to compete with Winston Justice. That leaves Mike McGlynn at right guard, a journeyman who could possibly be in jeopardy of losing his spot to one of the many big, strong, young guards that the Colts have brought in.
These battles should iron out as camp goes along, but for now there is a lot of uncertainty.
- Donnie Avery, T.Y. Hilton, and LaVon Brazill have all taken a lot of reps, and have flashed ability with long completions down the field. Free agent Jeremy Ross was reportedly taking first team snaps on Sunday and Monday, but not much has been heard from him since.
- Again, Jerry Hughes has looked impressive thus far, but training camp has never been his issue.
- Dwight Freeney expects to have his hand on the ground about “70% of the time.” He still thinks he should be labeled as a DE. Robert Mathis, on the other hand, has been dropping into coverage a little more frequently.
- As stated earlier, Greg Manusky’s defenses already look exotic and confusing. It will be a very different look compared to the last decade.
- Delone Carter and Vick Ballard got snaps in goal-line packages on Saturday, with Carter going three for three, with no fumbles. Ballard, behind the second team OL, got stuffed each time.
- Fili Moala says he’s a little more comfortable in the 3-4 defense, and looks to start at defensive end thus far.
- The Colts waive/injured Benjamin Ijalana after his ACL tear, the only way to get the second year linemen onto the injured reserve list. He cleared waivers and will be on the Colts’ IR, as did A.J. Edds.
- There were several “scuffles” on Thursday, one between Winston Justice and Jerry Hughes (Drake Nevis and a few others got in the mix), and the other between Cassius Vaughn and Donnie Avery.
- It seems that Mewelde Moore has been taking the second team snaps at running back, leaving us wondering if Ballard and Carter will get many snaps to start the year.