Colts Offseason Notebook: The Rookies

NFL rookies are entering a unique world, one in which they are paid to play football.  The work is beyond difficult, but the experience – and, yes, the pay – can be quite incredible for the ones who make it. 

Like most players at the Colts Rookie Minicamp over the weekend, third round pick Hugh Thornton enjoyed being on the job for the first time.  “It was awesome,” he said. “I had a lot of fun out there, learned a lot of stuff. That’s one thing you realize, the change from college to the pros playbook is deep. There are a lot of things that go into it. You have a lot of checks. It’s been interesting. It’s been fun. I’m excited to meet the veterans and go from there.” 

There were 37 players at the minicamp over Mother’s Day weekend.  History tells us that some undrafted players will make the team and possibly contribute, but for now, we’ll focus on the seven draftees. 

Bjoern Werner

Werner hadn’t signed his contract yet, but he was able to participate in the rookie minicamp.  He didn’t have a great combine, but he has impressed the Colts’ coaching staff, and they liked what they saw of him over the weekend, practicing for the first time as a Colt. 

Colts Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky’s impression of Werner is that of a quick study, even for a player changing positions.  “Usually it takes players probably a whole offseason to get their feet underneath them,” he said of Werner. “For him, he looks good the first day I saw him out of a two-point stance. He’s been working I know down in south Florida. He’s been working on it a lot. Usually the hardest thing is once they stand up, they don’t shoot their hands, but he seems like he’s doing a pretty good job of it right now. It’s a pretty good situation right now.” 

Chuck Pagano said Werner has a great first step and added, among other things, “He’s a really bright guy. Again, we threw a ton of material and information at those guys, on both sides of the ball. He came out here and there wasn’t a deer in the headlights, so to speak. He understands and gets football. For playing the short period of time that he has, he really understands it.” 

Of course, all coaches will say their first round draft pick looks good after his first weekend of practices, but the specific things that impress them can be telling.  Werner sounds like a smart guy and a quick learner, which, on top of his more obvious physical gifts, should bode well for him in his rookie season. 

Best quote from Werner himself: “Yeah, I feel great. It was awesome. I couldn’t wait for this stage, just get out there and do some football again. I had fun.”  Yep, get out there and do some football.  I can’t help but to like this guy. 

 

Hugh Thornton

The coaches didn’t talk as much about third round pick Hugh Thornton, but Pagano did say he intends for Thornton to get comfortable playing right guard.  “I know he’s played a bunch of spots and can play outside,” Pagano said of Thornton, “but we are going to let him settle in there and get comfortable, learn everything and then go from there. He had a good camp, did a nice job."

As far as staying at one position, the versatile Thornton said, “That’s the first time I’ve ever been in that situation before. I’m happy with it. If they do need me to do something else, than I’m more than willing to do that as well. I’m just here to compete and enjoy being a Colt.”

Many fans believe Thornton could be competing for a starting job.  He will have much work to do if he is to start as a rookie lineman.  If he is able to provide good depth along the offensive line as a rookie, he’s still a good draft pick. 

 

Khaled Holmes

Fourth rounder Khaled Holmes, another versatile offensive lineman (currently listed as a center/guard), hasn’t been as popular of a pick among Colts fans.  He’s a smart player, but many people believe he needs to build up some NFL-caliber strength. 

He did make a strong impression on Pagano in minicamp, playing to his strengths, which are mostly the mental side of the game.  “The guy is brilliant, very sharp, very bright, makes all the calls,” he said of Holmes. “He picked up (things fast). It seems like he’s been here months the way he operated out here. He had that aura about him. He’s a very, very confident kid. I was very impressed with Khaled.”

Besides being a good learner, Holmes sounds like a man who’s ready to put in some serious work.  “We will do everything that the strength and conditioning staff suggests for us to do, throws at us,” he said. “Every opportunity you have on your own to get better in the playbook and the training room and everything so just making sure you’re the best player you can be.”

 

Montori Hughes

Hughes, picked in the fifth round, is listed as a defensive tackle (DT) instead of a nose tackle (NT), despite being one of the most gigantic players on the team.  A DT lines up between the NT and the OLB on the right side of a base 3-4 front in Pagano’s defense. 

Hughes will be battling with Ricky Jean-Francois, Fili Moala, and Drake Nevis for playing time at that position.  This means that, theoretically (if they all make the team), he could find his way onto the field at the same time as reserve defensive end Kellen Heard (339 lbs.), and 345 lb. backup nose tackle Brandon McKinney…a very heavy short yardage package – literally a half ton front. 

Despite questions about his work ethic, Hughes at least talks like a hard worker and a humble person.  “There’s always room for improvement,” he said. “This is the best level of football. This is as good as it gets. Just being able to learn from these coaches and learn at this level is an honor and a blessing. I’m just soaking it all in.”

Montori Hughes can run through football player clichés at a rate of two or more per sentence, but if he walks the walk, he already has the physical tools to be a pretty good player. 

 

John Boyett

The Colts took the injury high road with fifth round NT Josh Chapman last year, and that trend will continue with Boyett, the sixth round safety who is still recovering from two patellar tendon surgeries. 

“You know what, we’re holding him back,” Pagano said of Boyett. “He’s still a little bit limited. We feel like he could probably come in and he feels like he could probably come in and do some things, but we are in no rush to push him and have another setback and cost him at least the 10 OTAs. We’re going to err on the side of caution with him. He wants to go. He’s champing at the bit. He’s really eager like the rest of the guys, but we are going to make sure that he’s 100 percent before we throw him out there.”

Boyett could be a diamond in the rough…or at least a shiny quartz crystal in the rough.  But he needs to recover and be 100% before he gets out there and plays. 

 

Kerwynn Williams

Williams, picked in the seventh round, is a speedy, undersized running back (5-8, 195) out of Utah State.  Williams has been learning the offense, but he is expected to compete to be the team’s kickoff and punt returner in 2013. 

“I definitely think special teams is a big part in how well a team does,” Williams said. “Any time you can get a lot of yards on a kickoff return or a punt return and put the offense in good field position that definitely makes it easier to score touchdowns. That’s the hidden yardage part that (special teams coach Tom McMahon) talks about and just being able to start off the offense on the plus-side of the field instead of your side of the 50-yard line.”

Williams will be going against a similar player in the undrafted Denodus O’Bryant for a roster spot.  It is unclear how much either player could contribute on offense, but they are both accomplished college kick returners. 

 

Justice Cunningham

Steve Justice.  Winston Justice.  Justice Cunningham.  Since the 2008 season, the Colts have drafted or signed three guys named Justice, in one way or another – I know, hard-hitting football analysis, right here.   Cunningham, the last player drafted in 2013, will be working to stay on the roster longer than the last two Justices, each of whom was a one hit wonder. 

Just to make the team – and they certainly need a viable backup tight end behind Allen and Fleener – Cunningham will need to prove he can do more than block.  So far, so good.  “He’s an athletic guy. He can stretch the field,” Chuck Pagano said of Cunningham. “I know there are a couple of balls he’d like to have back, a few that hit the ground. A big, athletic guy. We knew that. A pretty sharp guy. We feel like we have another guy in the mix who is a good blocker and also become an effective pass receiver.” 

Cunningham likely will be competing with Weslye Saunders and/or Dominique Jones for a roster spot, and some good hands and route running would go a long way for him. 

 

Final Thoughts on Minicamp

There is a good balance of confidence and humility among the Colts’ draft picks.  They believe in themselves, but there aren’t any diva personalities in this bunch. 

Don’t be alarmed if the coaches had little to say about any particular player.  At this stage, it’s difficult to make any judgments about the new players, and whom the coaches talk about is dictated largely by the questions from the media. 

All quotes are courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts Public Relations Department.

 

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