INDIANAPOLIS — It not only looked like football was back. It felt like it, too.
The Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday held their first OTA practice of the offseason, and were greeted with fall-like conditions at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, with overcast skies and temperatures in the low-50s.
The action on the field was anything but cool, however, as most of the team’s 90-man roster was quickly moving from drill to drill, and then from play to play, as the players and coaches got the chances to conduct team-on-team drills for the first time all offseason.
So what were the top takeaways from the first day of OTA practices?
» Quarterback Andrew Luck was a non-participant Tuesday, as he deals with a calf strain. Head coach Frank Reich said after the session that Luck is being held out as a precaution, and he will be re-evaluated at the beginning of next week.
» That left three quarterbacks for the session: Jacoby Brissett, Phillip Walker and Chad Kelly, who was signed by the team on Monday. Reich said the plan is for the team to keep four quarterbacks for the remainder of the offseason and into camp and the preseason, just like last year when the team had Luck, Brissett, Walker and Brad Kaaya.
» We knew heading into the week that wide receiver Deon Cain, tight end Ross Travis, linebacker Darius Leonard and tight end Jack Doyle won’t likely be involved in on-the-field activities until training camp due to their respective injuries and recovery timelines. Others who watched from the sidelines Tuesday included wide receiver Penny Hart, safety Clayton Geathers, cornerback Chris Milton, defensive tackle Jihad Ward, defensive end Jegs Jegede, tight end Eric Ebron and defensive end Jabaal Sheard. The team does not release an injury report during the offseason workout program, so keep an eye out for any injury-related updates when training camp gets underway in late-July.
» Among those not sitting out Tuesday were wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and Marcus Johnson. Hilton suffered a low and high ankle sprain Week 14 against the Houston Texans last season but continued to play through the injury the rest of the year, including two playoff contests. Hilton was a full participant in Tuesday’s practice session, however, and even was the intended recipient of the first play of 11-on-11 action, a deep pass attempt down the right sideline from Brissett that just fell incomplete. Johnson, meanwhile, suffered a season-ending ankle injury Week 6 against the New York Jets, but was also back on the practice field Tuesday. Good news for the Colts’ receiving corps.
» Safeties Malik Hooker and Matthias Farley both were also able to practice on Tuesday, as was linebacker Skai Moore. General manager Chris Ballard said recently he anticipated Hooker being able to take part in the entire offseason program after dealing with some injury issues late last season. Farley, meanwhile, suffered a season-ending wrist injury Week 5 against the New England Patriots, while Moore was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 18 with a neck injury. Moore, who tied the South Carolina record with 14 career interceptions, picked off a pass during 7-on-7 drills Tuesday.
» Staying at wide receiver, Tuesday was a solid day for a couple newcomers to the position in particular: Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Funchess, who signed with Indy this offseason as a free agent after spending the first four seasons with the Carolina Panthers, was catching everything thrown his direction, including an impressive 50-50 back-shoulder throw from Brissett where he was draped by cornerback Pierre Desir. The second-round pick Campbell, meanwhile, certainly didn’t look like a rookie in his first official full team practice, as he showed off his speed running routes all over the field, including a nice play out of the slot on a deep slant to the right sideline, hauling in a pass in front of safety George Odum.
» Campbell was also seen working in as a punt returner alongside Chester Rogers. Campbell was a dangerous kick returner at Ohio State, but never logged any punt returns in college; he sure looked comfortable fielding punts from Rigoberto Sanchez on a windy Tuesday in Indy, however.
» Another second-round pick, Ben Banogu, is officially listed as a linebacker, but on Tuesday he was seen mostly running with the defensive linemen and rushing off the edge. That’s primarily what Banogu did in his college days at TCU, and Ballard has alluded to the fact that he’ll have a role getting after the quarterback on passing downs. But Banogu is also going to be counted on in open space as a linebacker, where he can use his speed and striking ability. We’ll keep an eye on where Banogu is lined up next week.
» With Doyle, Ebron and Travis watching practice from the sidelines, Mo Alie-Cox was utilized as the No. 1 tight end on Tuesday, and he was certainly a standout on the offensive side of the ball. Remember: Alie-Cox stopped playing organized football after middle school to focus on basketball, and he ended up becoming a standout on the court for VCU. But the Colts liked his raw athleticism and size, and decided to bring him along as a project at tight end in 2017; last year, he got his first full-time action on the NFL field in Indy, appearing in nine games and logging seven receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Reich on Tuesday raved about Alie-Cox’s development as a route runner, and that showed on Tuesday. He’s yet another talented piece at a major position of strength for the Colts.
» Continuing a theme from last year’s OTA and training camp practices, it was hard to get a read on just who was lining up with the “first-team” or “second-team” defense. Coordinator Matt Eberflus likes to mix and match various position groups throughout practice, which helps players get used to playing with all sorts of different combinations once the games actually begin. The defense overall looked quick as advertised on Tuesday, however; cornerback Shakial Taylor and safety Rolan Milligan each logged interceptions during 11-on-11 work.
» The Colts will continue OTA practices this week on Wednesday and Thursday. The next scheduled opportunity for the media to watch practice is next Wednesday (May 29).