(Thomas J Russo – USA Today Sports)
The Colts are back to practicing and having meetings again. The excitement and drama of the football season are still months away, but the work has already begun.
Hasselbeck on Luck: Reducing Unnecessary Hits
Among questions about his role, his new team, and an entertaining bet with Chandler Harnish over jersey numbers (click here for the video), Matt Hasselbeck mostly spoke about Andrew Luck. When someone asked him where Luck could improve, the Colts new backup was very candid. “He’s pretty strong right now,” Hasselbeck said. “For me, I think really not knowing anything right now just the amount of hits he takes is probably unnecessary. If you’re going to play 20-game seasons and maybe more than that for years and years and years, there’s probably some opportunities to cut some hits down. Eliminating five hits a game, those add up. Right now he’s very, very good at everything that we’ve talked about, everything that we’ve done so far, he’s impressive in every way.”
Whatever anyone feels about Hasselbeck, that statement should earn him some points. After watching Luck get clobbered, time and time again. After hearing Bruce Arians dismiss it as just part of playing football, it’s refreshing to know that everyone from Jim Irsay to the backup quarterback is making it a priority to protect the franchise’s young star from taking a beating every week.
On a slightly different note, the running joke about Andrew Luck’s cell phone came up again as well. Luck still carries the same Samsung flip phone for which Linebacker Jerrell Freeman was playfully making fun of him last year. “I’m actually impressed,” Hasselbeck said. “I have more respect for him after seeing his cell phone. It’s amazing. Some people think it’s not true, I was one of them, but I’ve got a ton of respect.” Does anyone else see a smartphone endorsement deal in Luck’s future?
Josh “Fire Hydrant” Chapman
And then there’s Josh Chapman. Known as a run stuffer, the former Alabama nose tackle has been compared to a fire hydrant (yes, a fire hydrant) on several occasions; as in ‘trying to block that guy is like running into a dang fire hydrant.’ A vital piece of the Crimson Tide defense, Chapman opted to eschew surgery and continue playing, on one good leg, after tearing his ACL in 2011.
The injury dropped Chapman from a highly regarded prospect to a 5th round draft pick, and the recovery from surgery caused him to miss his entire rookie season. His return has been highly anticipated by a loyal contingent of fans, and while stopping the run, Chapman’s specialty, isn’t quite the number one key to victory in the pass-oriented NFL, we all know (all too well) what happens when that aspect of the defense is woefully deficient. (Don’t click either of those links if you are prone to anger)
The Colts have been cautious with Chapman’s rehabilitation, taking a commendable approach to the long-term health of a player who brings an element that’s been missing for years: a space eating, double team drawing interior D-lineman who enables the linebackers behind him, and even his fellow linemen, to make plays on the ball.
“It feels good being back out there with the guys,” Chapman said yesterday. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been with everybody. I was able to do everything with them now it’s time for that next step.”
Many fans are excited to see what ol’ “Fire Hydrant” can do when he finally takes the field, but it’s imperative to temper those expectations. Chapman isn’t going to put up gaudy, super star-type stats – not likely, anyway. It just isn’t the typical nature of his position, and it’s never been his modus operandi. He is, however, a powerful, tenacious, gap-clogging player. If Chapman can keep opposing centers and guards from blocking on the second level, draw and hold up against double teams, and pounce on a running back on occasion, he will be a success. In turn, that success style would allow his teammates, particularly the linebackers, to make some big plays on defense.
Meanwhile, Chapman himself has his eyes set on some lofty goals. “Right now we are priding ourselves on trying to be a top-five defense,” he said. “Right now, we want to stop the run. We are kind of priding ourselves on that. I pride myself on being a nose guard but it’s taking those steps, getting in shape, working on my technique on the field and getting in the film room, in the playbook.” That’s right. Top five. If Chapman’s presence, even as a two-down player, helps facilitate such a ranking, the Colts’ drafting him in the fifth round would be an absolute coup de maître. If he can contribute, or especially start, this year, he’ll prove to be another great late round draft pick.
West Coast, No Coast
Bruce Arians has taken his wild, vertical offense to Arizona, and new Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton comes from more of a West Coast Offense background. Hamilton has made it clear, however, that his system incorporates too many other styles and types of plays to be pigeonholed into a West Coast label, even calling it a “No Coast Offense.”
Hamilton’s willingness to incorporate different philosophies, including elements from last year’s system, should give the Colts a more versatile attack that can adapt to and take advantage of a wide array of opposing defenses.
When asked about the new system, Andrew Luck said, “It is a ‘No Coast Offense,’ and that’s how Pep (Hamilton) feels. That’s how he presented it to us. It’s going to try and give us the best advantage, wherever it may lie. It’s taking ideas from here, from there, obviously from the West Coast a bit. Wherever it gives us the best advantage to get balls in Reggie’s (Wayne) hands, in Vick Ballard’s, in Donald’s (Brown), in Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. (Hilton), however we can do that, the tight ends, that’s what the offense is predicated on.”
Obviously, for guys like Luck and second-year Tight End Coby Fleener, the new offense isn’t actually that new. “Having been in it for four or five years at Stanford, I kind of better understand the nuances than I did of last year’s offense,” Fleener said of Hamilton’s system. “With any offense it takes time and thankfully I have a little bit of time under my belt.” The 6 foot 6 inch Fleener is surely looking forward to being in a familiar system that utilizes tight ends more in the passing game. He could end up being one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new offense.
The New Guys
With the ten free agent signees (not counting Josh McNary, who remains on military duty) and two reserve/future contract players who haven’t had any previous stints with the team (former Indoor league LB Jake Killeen and gigantic WR Jeremy Kelley), there is an unusually high amount of new players on hand for practice a week before the draft.
With all that newness and the hope that accompanies another season on the horizon, there is no shortage of enthusiasm on West 56th Street. “It’s been lots of fun, but it’s been a lot of work,” said newly signed backup QB Matt Hasselbeck. “I came in; you can tell it’s a tight-knit group, a tight-knit team. Everyone is very excited to get back together, to get back to seeing each other. For me I’ve met a bunch of new people in a short amount of time. I’m trying to study a brand new playbook. We’re also working really hard in the weight room, out on the field throwing, but it’s been fun.”
Some of the new players are just happy to be a part of a winning organization. “Sometimes you feel like you have to learn everything over again,” said right tackle former Detroit Lion Gosder Cherilus. “You feel like a rookie. You have to ask everybody where to go. But I want to be a part of a good team; a great group of guys like these guys are always willing to help. If it’s in the weight room, they tell me where to go. They’ve been first class from kickers to Andrew (Luck).”
All quotes are courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts Public Relations Department.
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