New rules, defensive progression, roster moves, which players are generating buzz this week, and the behind the scenes value of Reggie Wayne. We have a great deal to talk about today. But first, the Colts had a visit form a group of kids from Rily Hospital for Children.
Before practice, Chuck Pagano talked about having the Riley patients out at practice and the service opportunity it presented. “It’s an opportunity for our family, for our organization, for our team to give back and to serve. We talk about serving, we talk about self and we talk about team,” Pagano said. “It’s an honor to have those kids from Riley coming out here.
“Certainly we all understand first-hand what they’re going through, the battles that they’re fighting, the strain that it is on their families, those type of things. We had them last year and it’s going to be awesome to have them out here again this year and just spend some time with them. They’re an inspiration to us, just to see them fight and how strong and come out here with smiles on their faces and the way they attack the bully that they’re battling.”
McNary in, Prime out…then back in
Roster Moves: Yesterday, the Colts Added all-time Army sack leader, linebacker, and Lieutenant Josh McNary to the active roster, cutting undrafted rookie linebacker C.O. Prime. Later in the day, the team placed veteran reserve nose tackle Brandon McKinney on Injured Reserve, and for the newly open roster spot, they added – you guessed it – C.O. Prime (Actually, they rescinded his waiver – details, details).
It was tough news for McKinney, who had swelling in the knee he injured last season, but surely an exciting day for McNary, who joined the team on their first day practicing in full pads. “I think the quote of the day was Mr. Grigson approaching me, telling me, ‘It’s just like riding a bike.’ He hit it right on the head,” McNary said. “It just felt comfortable to be back out here. It felt natural, surprisingly. I was kind of concerned going into it, whether if I was going to be overly rusty. But it turned out to be pretty smooth, a smooth transition.”
Injuries: According to Craig Kelley of Colts.com, safety Sergio Brown (hamstring), linebacker Scott Lutrus (knee), and rookie center/guard Khaled Holmes (ankle) all suffered injuries during practice. Rookie guard Hugh Thornton missed morning practice with an ankle injury as well.
Training camp injuries are bad news for any player when there are extra people battling for a job, but Lutrus could be in particularly bad shape if he misses much time this year after having gone on the IR following the first preseason game in 2012.
New Rules: For those who haven’t already heard about it several times, there is a new NFL rule requiring all players to wear knee and thigh pads. Many players haven’t worn them in the past; often claiming they aren’t as fast with them on. That hasn’t been the case for receiver T.Y. Hilton, however, who is quite used to them. “Always,” Hilton said of wearing the extra pads, “I don’t know why guys don’t wear them. It’s just crazy. But I think it’s good for the league though.”
There are always players generating buzz in training camp, whether it’s an unknown guy, such as Jerrell Freeman last year, or well-known players showing improvement, as happens to be the case this week.
Beast mode?: To so many fans and other observers, Coby Fleener looks like what people hoped for last year when the Colts picked him in the second round.
But does he look that impressive to the coaches? “Yeah,” Pagano said, “you guys are seeing the same thing, so now it’s just consistency. If he can keep stacking practices like that on top of one another, keep stacking bricks, then what we talked about in the offseason about him moving forward and having the type of season in year two building off the first year.
“If he keeps practicing the way that he’s practicing then he’s going to have a great season. He’s a mismatch, you know, he’s a handful for these guys. He’s going to do better in the run game. We expect more out of him in the run game and he knows that. We’re going to ask him to do a little more heavy lifting in the run game, but certainly in the pass game, he’s a mismatch.”
Griff, Griff, Griff: Many fans adore wide receiver Griff Whalen. He hasn’t won quite everyone over yet, but he’s working on it. Whalen has continued his consistent, reliable ways (remind you of anyone?) despite not looking like much on paper, so to speak.
“You know what, just where he left off before he got injured in preseason last year,” Pagano said of the second year receiver. “He’s a very, very consistent guy, a cerebral guy, doesn’t make mentals, knows how to line up, knows every intricacy of the offense, so he’s able to play fast and he’s got a great set of hands. He doesn’t drop any footballs and he makes plays so I’m happy where he is at. We’ve just got to keep him healthy and keep moving in the right direction.”
No drops yet: T.Y. Hilton. The kid looks good. Any goals, T.Y.? “I don’t really have any,” he said before naming three very respectable, um, objectives. “I just want to have fun. I want to limit my drops to single digits and just go out there and have fun and punt return, probably get about two or three touchdowns.”
So far, Hilton says he has not drops in practice, and he’s keeping track. “Yeah,” he said, “every drop I have, I am going to run so right now just limit my drops and just have fun.” If this keeps up, it’ll be fun watching T.Y. have fun this season.
Aside from having fun, Hilton has been shadowing Reggie Wayne, asking questions, even getting the locker next door to him – all things one should do if his goal (or objective, I guess) is to become a better, possibly even a great, receiver. He took a moment to recognize the value of #87’s mentorship. “I am very appreciative of him,” Hilton said of Wayne. “Whenever I get a chance I just make sure I tell him thank you just being able to have the time to be able to talk to me, just give me the time. Whenever I have a question to ask him, he always answers so just to be able to have the type of guy means a lot.”
So, the defense, as Antoine Bethea said earlier in the week, looks good. Bethea even used the word special, something nobody would have said in last year’s training camp. Now, guys are going out of their way to make positive assessments.
As for Pagano, his tone was not unlike that of a proud father. “You can see it, right?” he said of his defense. “You can see that swagger coming, right? Defensively, every time you step on the field, you expect greatness. You expect to make plays, create turnovers, stop the run. All those type of things. I think going into year two it’s a natural progression that everybody feels more comfortable with the scheme. We feel more comfortable with their coaches. Terminology, all those things.”
Last season, the Colts…well, they just didn’t force very many turnovers. Fixing that will be a major focus this season, and the coaches have been driving it home early and often. “Definitely something we are harping on,” said cornerback Darius Butler, who had four interceptions last year. “Interceptions, strips, fumbles, getting that ball because nothing correlates more in winning in the NFL than turnovers.”
“I think practice makes perfect,” cornerback Greg Toler added. “Coach Pagano, he always stresses to us run to the ball, finish after the play. You never know when the ball is going to come out. So, when guys don’t run to the ball, the ball might be there on the ground and you don’t expect it to come out so you think your job is over. We just try to practice it every day and that just becomes a habit like with anything.”
Incidentally, like T.Y. Hilton, Toler, a former receiver himself, leans on none other than Reggie Wayne as he strives to improve his own game. “Being here, I always ask Reggie what does he see in my game that I need to work on,” Toler said. “By me being my biggest critic, I try to take it from the wide receivers how did they get me on a route or did I open up too much? So, it’s a blessing.”
Wherever you look on this team, Reggie Wayne’s value reaches far beyond what he does on the field. Colts fans, how glad are you that this guy came back last year? That is all I have today. How about a few other good quotes?
Donald Brown on having a fullback: “Good. Fullbacks obviously help open up the run game and that will be good for alleviating some pressure on our pass game. That’s what we need to do. We need to run the ball better and take some pressure off Andrew (Luck) and the wide receivers.”
Greg Toler on what he likes about being a defensive back: “Just the skill set. Playing football backwards. Mirroring a receiver. Playing backwards, trying to distinguish his route breaks, reading the quarterback through three step, not to get too in-depth. Just the fundamental part about it and just being athletic.”
Vick Ballard on whether he ever tells anyone to slow down in practice, especially on just the third day of training camp: “Slow down? I think that today’s going to be really exciting because it’s the first day in pads and people were moving a little sluggish in our walkthroughs. But I’m pretty sure that once the pads come on and everyone gets firing it’s going to be really exciting.”
As always, all quotes and practice note information are courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts PR Department.
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