Making the Trip is a series about my three-day trek through Indiana, mostly about my time at the Indianapolis Colts' training camp. Basic notes from camp are a part of the series, but also a few other things that I wanted to extrapolate on. You can read the previous chapter, the notes from Monday night's training camp, here.
While most of the Colts' practices during training camp take place in the afternoons, the Colts scheduled one night practice this year, which just so happened to coincide with my visit. The night practice allowed many fans who might not have otherwise been able to make the trip, resulting in a crowd of over 7,000 people. I'm still not sure how the Anderson University staff counted everybody who came through the gates (I have an old man furiously clicking a counter in my head), and it seemed like closer to 10,000 people, but I digress.
My Bleacher Report colleague, and good friend, Tyler Brooke and I got to camp around about thirty minutes before practice officially started, which gave me time to meet a few great people (more on this later) prior to finding a few seats in the grandstands. Eventually we found a semi-empty row about three rows up on the far end of the bleachers. The defensive backs started out in front of us as they warmed up, and I also got a very clear view of individual pass rush drills (tight ends and running backs vs. linebackers). Later on we'd see both 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 work as well as the offensive line going head-to-head with the defensive line in a pass rush drill.
The following are some basic notes from the practice. Remember this is just one practice, with some influence from my notes from the previous day. This in no way is an indication of everything that is happening or a necessarily accurate depiction of certain players' ability, just my impressions from one day (or two) of practice.
- The first thing I noticed was the looseness of the defensive backs. The starting group save LaRon Landry (Antoine Bethea, Vontae Davis and Greg Toler), who was hurt with a minor knee injury and didn't practice, stretched out directly in front of us and seemed very comfortable with each other. By this time in camp, that vibe isn't uncommon, but it stuck out a bit more with that group than I saw with the rest of the team. If all four guys can be healthy and on the field, their strong chemistry and communication will be a critical part of their ability to cover well.
- Although Chris Mortensen and ESPN reported that Darrius Heyward-Bey could be out up to six weeks with a sprained MCL, the Colts were adamant about his injury not being serious. If Tuesday's practice was any indication, the Colts weren't covering anything up with this one: Heyward-Bey dressed and participated in positional drills, although he did sit out the team simulations (11-on-11, 7-on-7, that kind of thing). He didn't look limited (to my naked, untrained eye) in the time he spent going through the route tree and I wouldn't be surprised to see him back on the field for the game on Sunday. I expect the Colts take it slow, but I'd be shocked if DHB was out for more than a week or two.
- Watching the defensive backs warm up, I noticed that the starters' hip movements and crisp cuts were a clear step above the fringe players. In particular, Sheldon Price, the UDFA corner out of UCLA, looked somewhat clumsy with his pivot-and-plant movements. Talking with George Bremer of the Herald Tribune prior to practice, he mentioned that he thought Teddy Williams (who used to be a track star in college) had all the speed in the world, but struggled to turn his hips and mirror well in coverage. Watching him in warmups, his movements weren't as fluid as the top DBs, but weren't near the bottom of the pack either.
- The pass rush drill that consisted of linebackers going up against running backs and tight ends was really interesting. One-on-one blocking gives an advantage to defenders (the regular playing field is much more constricted with bodies in the way than the open-field drills they run in camp), but you could still get a feel for who was playing well and who was struggling.
- For the running backs in the aforementioned drill, Kerwynn Williams had a poor day. He's simply too small to take on a lot of the linebackers. Kavell Conner basically ran right through him in Williams' first time up. Delone Carter, on the other hand, has the size, but was a step slow most of the time. Donald Brown looked the best of the backs, while Ballard's performance was mixed.
- Dominique Jones was probably the most consistent performer of the backs and tight ends in the drill. He's fighting for a roster spot, and his chances are slim, but performances like the one I saw in that particular drill can't hurt his stock.
- In general the defense did well, (again, it's kind of set up for them to succeed), but Josh McNary's quickness really stuck out in my mind. He used a few different moves, and the transition from one to the other was surprisingly smooth.
- The Colts' safety depth took a hit as Joe Lefeged left practice early on and returned without pads on. With LaRon Landry and Sergio Brown already sitting out, Delano Howell took the field with the first-team defense.
- Monday's weird formation of the day was LB Justin Hickman dropping back into a free safety/center fielder-type role presnap, but Tuesday night was the offense's turn to surprise. The offense ran a flea-flicker on the first play of 11-on-11 drills, as Vick Ballard tossed the ball back to Luck, who hit T.Y. Hilton for a 20+ yard gain. In later red zone drills, the Colts ran a halfback pass, with Stanley Havili lining up behind Jones (fullback) and Luck. This one was much less successful: Havili took the toss right, but the defense read it the whole way and Havili was forced to throw it into the dirt.
- Other than a failed two-minute drill at the end of practice, Luck looked fantastic in scrimmage settings. The connection with T.Y. Hilton was particularly impressive, and Wayne got his receptions as well. Luck looked very willing to take the short completion when there wasn't an opening downfield, something we didn't see enough of in 2012. That's not to say he didn't go deep: his throw to Wayne down the seam early on and a later rainbow to Hilton down the right sideline were both perfectly placed deep balls that went for touchdowns.
- Matt Hasselbeck had reportedly been having some down practices, but he made some nice throws on Tuesday, including a couple of perfect 20+yard throws to Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen that flew just over the outstretched hands of defenders.
- Marshay Green looks to be the front-runner for the sixth cornerback spot, and could pass Josh Gordy on the depth chart if he keeps improving. He looked much more natural than Gordy did on Tuesday, and was active against the second-team offense. He did pick up two pass interference penalties (one was very questionable, the other pretty clear), but also had a near pick on short out route by Jones. On a day when the secondary didn't make a lot of plays, it got my attention.
- While it's hard to judge line play in this environment (it's hard to guage how hard the DL is going half the time), we were able to see specific DL vs. OL drills as well as 11-on-11 work. I noticed Drake Nevis fairly often in the backfield, as he was able to get pretty consistent penetration on the interior. Caesar Rayford also impressed, getting three sacks off the edge. Montori Hughes, on the other hand, was disappointing. He was consistently unable to make progress against the third-string offensive linemen, getting pancaked at least once. His work ethic in camp has also been inconsistent, according to some observers. It was known that he was raw when the Colts drafted him, so it's not all that surprising, but it still was a poor showing.
- After Griff Whalen, Jabin Sambrano was probably the most impressive "new" receiver, followed by Lanear Sampson. Neither looked great, but got a decent amount of opportunities and only had one drop each that I charted. Sambrano in particular had several impressive catches over the two practices I saw.
- Cassius Vaughn picked off Matt Hasselbeck in the end zone on the final play of practice. In true Vaughn fashion, he ran it all the way to the opposite endzone despite the play being called dead immediately after the interception. In all seriousness, Vaughn has reportedly had a solid camp. If he can turn that into productive play as a dime corner in the regular season, the Colts' weak secondary depth will inspire a bit more confidence.
That's it for my practice notes for this year. I'll have a few other pieces up in the next few days from my trip, but those will have a bit different focus. If you have any questions on anything I saw, or didn't see, while I was in Anderson, feel free to ask on Twitter (@ColtsAuth_Kyle) or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.