Summer School's Effect on Regular Season Makes May and June Critical Time
INDIANAPOLIS - As Gary Brackett sees it, there is a ripple effect.
What happens around the Colts in May and June, the veteran middle linebacker and defensive captain will tell you, has a direct effect on what happens in September.
And what happens in September affects October.
And so on . . .
And so on . . .
Which is why Brackett, entering his sixth NFL season and his third as captain, said while the Colts have changed the structure of the summer school sessions – also known as organized team activities, or OTAs – that are ongoing at the team's practice facility, the sessions remain critical.
The season may be more than three months away, but the work has begun, and Brackett said its imance can't be overestimated.
"We've been so productive in the upcoming season because of how we approach the offseason," Brackett said Tuesday, one of several days during the Colts' OTAs when practices were open to the media.
The Colts have started the last three seasons 13-0, 9-0 and 7-0, winning the AFC South title each of those three seasons.
"That's important," Brackett said. "You really get a head start on everyone else. They're chasing you for the rest of the year."
The change in approach for this year's OTAs focused on improving the sessions' efficiency, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Tuesday.
Whereas in years past, the sessions focused on team activities and practices on most of the 14 days allowed for OTAs under NFL rules, the schedule now focuses more on the needs of various experience levels.
"We've changed it around a little bit, kind of alternating our OTAs work between group work, individual stuff and team work," Dungy said. "Last week, we had quite a bit of teamwork and got some good things done. This week, we slowed down a little bit. I think it has been good for both groups – our veterans and our rookies.
"We've been pleased with it and we're progressing as we would hope."
Dungy said the new format has been particularly beneficial for rookies.
"They get a chance to get some things thrown at them, to work through it, to get with their individual position coaches," Dungy said. "I think they're learning it better. We're able to slow down a little bit, and I think that's probably pretty good."
The Colts in recent seasons have maintained one of the NFL's youngest rosters, primarily because they depend on rookies and second-year players to play important roles.
On Tuesday, many of the players working in a practice open to the media were younger players, while a few veterans such as Brackett, cornerback Marlin Jackson and safety Antoine Bethea worked during certain situations.
"We were putting in some new things on defense," Brackett said. "We like to go out and all be on the same page. Obviously, having the first team out there is important, so that's why myself, Marlin Jackson and Antoine are out there trying to get some things worked out."
The decision on which players will participate in what work "has been very much individualized," Dungy said. "The coaches determine who needs to be there each day for what we're putting in that day. It may be different offensive guys and different defensive guys.
"Some of our first- and second-year starters on defense are doing a little more than our seven- or eight-year starters on offense. Again, I think it's a pretty good concept in that guys are getting what their coach feels they need."
In general, Dungy said, the rookies are getting "a lot more reps and actually practice time than they normally would get. Again, that's a good side effect of it."
Another positive, Dungy said:
A reduction of "boredom" among veterans.
"It was really done to help the young guys more than anything," Dungy said. "When we had so many of the veterans involved and we did all teamwork, it was kind of boring for the vets if it went slow and then it was too fast for the rookies if we got up to speed on what the veterans did. The coaches tended to want to try new things. 'OK, we've got our veteran group here. Let's see this thing we want to get incorporated into training camp, something we've thought about in the offseason.'
"This year, I think our veteran guys know when they come and we put them through their conditioning or something on the field, it's really tailored to them, but we aren't going at such a fast pace that the rookies can't keep up."
HIGH TURNOUT: Dungy said attendance for the OTAs – which are voluntary under NFL rules – has been high this season, as typically has been the case in recent seasons.
Among the few players Dungy said are not attending are wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Harrison is working out in Philadelphia and Wayne is working out in Miami, Dungy said.
ALL BUT SET: With a few possible exceptions, Dungy said the Colts' roster now is basically the one the team will take to training camp.
"I think it will be," he said. "I don't know where we'd go from there. We're still investigating some things. I wouldn't say anything is out of the picture. For the most part, this is the group you're counting on."