As promised, the free agency period and training camp process has been a whirlwind experience in 2011. The lockout kept teams from officially meeting or holding any summer activities to help draft picks and free agent acquisitions get up to speed in their new offensive and defensive systems, get to know their coaches and training staff, or get playbooks in their hands.
The Colts, like most NFL teams this year, have undergone turnover, brought in some new faces, and made more moves in veteran free agency since the 1999 off-season. Until the new collective bargaining agreement was officially ratified on Thursday, all players who were entering the season with new contracts were forced to sit back and watch. Today, full teams (minus a few players with injuries) had the chance to get onto the field together. The following players have shown the most so far…
Tommie Harris – Although Harris only practiced Friday afternoon, he did not waste time making an impression. Coltzilla’s Jacob Crocker and IndyStar.com‘s Phil B. Wilson reported that Harris showed burst off of the line in drills. Wilson thought Harris was the top performer in pass rush drills in the afternoon practice.
Delone Carter – Throughout the week Carter has earned praise as the kind of strong, fast, bruising running back many of the analysts projected he would be when the Colts drafted him. Carter has no shied away from contact, he driven through tacklers, and is deceptively quick. Phil B. shared a story from Friday’s practice featuring a strong goal-line run by Carter.
Rookie RB Delone Carter disappeared into the goal-line masses with a loud pop. Coaches and players reacted to the collision. Don’t know who hit him, but say this for the fourth-round pick who as someone accurately tweeted this week is a 5-9 guy made of muscle, he kept surging forward and scored the TD. Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer ran in from the sideline to playfully plead with the refs that Carter was down less than a yard from the line, but the score stood.
Jerry Hughes – Hughes was put into one of the most difficult positions of any player on the roster last year. He was a first round draft pick who had to sit behind two perennial Pro Bowl defensive ends — Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Sitting either of the veterans for a rookie who had to learn without playing in games — where anyone will tell you the best learning actually occurs — did not make any sense, particularly as the Colts often found themselves in tight games — due in no small part to a plethora of injuries that hurt both sides of the football.
Reports so far out of camp this year, though, suggest that Hughes shows great speed, the ability to bull rush, and the ability to consistently challenge Colts offensive linemen. Jacob Crocker and Phil B. Wilson both reported that Hughes had a very strong performance on Wednesday. Wilson stated, “Jerry Hughes looked outstanding for the most part tonight. Very fast, quick to the ball.” Andrew Mishler of the Ball State Daily News (I wrote for the Daily News in undergrad. was also excited, “Scrimmage has started. Jerry Hughes is absolutely destroying #79 to start. Speed and bull rush. He would have sacked Painter if allowed to.” For those who don’t have their training camp rosters handy, #79 is rookie guard/tackle Benjamin Ijalana.
Pat McAfee – Colts fans were starting to buzz about punter Pat McAfee in 2010 after his accuracy and leg strength seemed to fall off later in the season. Many wondered if McAfee’s drunken swimming rubbed off and turned his focus to becoming the next Michael Phelps. If his video shortly before camp, featuring field goals of 65, 70, and 75 yards did not get people’s attention, his 80-yard punt and repeat performance of his long field goals in Anderson should.
Drake Nevis – For fans who heard a lot about the Colts stealing Drake Nevis in the third round of the NFL Draft, and who saw his impressive highlight video, training camp could not get here soon enough. Nevis has not disappointed. Phil B. has tweeted on more than one occasion that Nevis has been impressive. Following Monday’s practice, Wilson stated, “Drake Nevis stood out Monday afternoon. Third-round pick tore it up in towel pass-rushing drill. Kid has great burst.” On Wednesday Wilson again sung his praises, “Third-round pick Drake Nevis was getting solid DT penetration, even in the two-on-one drill.” StampedeBlue.com’s Matt Grecco observed on Friday, “Nevis immediately in backfield again. He’s a beast.” A pattern in forming Colts fans. Nevis will make some waives in the preseason.
It is still early in camp to reach any official conclusion on any of the players listed above, or those left out. As mentioned previously, Friday was the first opportunity for a lot of players to practice. A mock game is scheduled for Saturday with another full week of practice next week. On Saturday the 13th the Colts will travel to St. Louis to face the Rams in their first pre-season action. Until that game, the best fans can hope for is glimmers of positive news from camp. Three defensive linemen earning consistent praise has to be a good sign for a team whose defensive line is so often maligned.