WESTFIELD, Ind. – It may seem early in the NFL calendar, but think about where we are on Aug. 2 this way:
Between now and at least the second week of January, there are only three weeks in which the Colts are not scheduled to play a game. This is one of them.
Next week, the Colts head to Buffalo for their Aug. 12 preseason opener. One week later, the Chicago Bears will arrive at Lucas Oil Stadium. Then five days after that, the Colts face the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. After getting Labor Day weekend off, the 2023 season will kick off in downtown Indianapolis against the Jacksonville Jaguars; the Colts' next break will come after the team returns from Frankfurt, Germany in mid-November.
It's all going to happen fast. There's no time to waste. So with that in mind, here are a few things we've learned and noticed over the first week of training camp – which has comprised of five practices and two walkthroughs at Grand Park:
Where things stand with the quarterback competition
Gardner Minshew and Anthony Richardson have rotated in and out with the first-team offense, either on a day-to-day basis or, last Saturday, on a practice-period-to-practice-period basis. The plan will be for Minshew and Richardson to continue their first-team rotation for now, head coach Shane Steichen said Tuesday.
The Colts haven't put a timetable on when they'll name a Week 1 starting quarterback, though the 12-day stretch between Aug. 12 and Aug. 24 will carry plenty of weight in the team's evaluation. In those dozen days, the Colts will play three games (at Buffalo, vs. Chicago, at Philadelphia) and hold three joint practices (two with the Bears, one with the Eagles).
"You get some joint practices, which we are going to have – you kind of treat those like games," Steichen said. "That'll be good for the guys to get those reps as well. Obviously when you get into those preseason games – you get that real, live action to see where they're at. I think you take both into account, but there's a lot of factors that go into the preseason games too as well so everything is evaluated."
Observations on Gardner Minshew
A couple of rapid-fire entries into the notebook over the last few days:
- You can feel Minshew's knowledge of Steichen's offense, and his 24 games of NFL starting experience, when he gets in during practice. He knows where to go with the ball and he's used his operational feel of the offense to his advantage at times during practice.
- Minshew practices with some swagger to him. During Tuesday's practice, he threw touchdowns on all three of his full-team goal-line snaps – and celebrated accordingly after them. His competitive energy, not just with Richardson but against the defense, is benefitting the entire team.
- The rapport between Minshew and Richardson is strong. If Richardson makes a big play, Minshew's usually the first guy to high five him; if Minshew makes a big play, Richardson's usually the first guy to high five him. This isn't something that should be taken for granted, too. Not every veteran quarterback is as engaged and invested in the development of the rookie he's competing against to start. It's a testament to Minshew's leadership and disposition.
Observations on Anthony Richardson
Same deal here. A couple of entries into the notebook over the last seven days:
- You gotta see his talent to believe it. Some of the throws Richardson has made – like a 60-yard strike to Alec Pierce last Friday – are remarkable in just how easy he makes them look. The ball explodes out of Richardson's hand, and he effortlessly uses his mobility to either create explosive plays through the air or to chew up yardage on the ground. If you haven't got up to Grand Park to watch Richardson yet, grab your free ticket here.
- I wrote about this in more detail here, but Richardson's willingness to chuck a throw out of the back of the end zone instead of forcing something in the red zone has been notable.
- How Richardson responds to mistakes – missed throws, reads, etc. – will be an important point in how the Colts evaluate his readiness to play in the regular season. The goal, quarterbacks coach Cam Turner said, is "not making the same mistake twice. Once he makes it, you know, kind of growing from it. And the next time you see him, correct it, that's when you kind of know, 'Alright, he's got it.'"
- One last thing. None of this – the intensity of training camp practices, the pressure of being the No. 4 overall pick, the mental load thrown on him – seems too big for Richardson. His even-keel mentality, willingness to be coached and awareness of what he doesn't know are all to his benefit as he goes through the development process this summer. "He's calling us, texting us, asking us questions," Turner said. "And you know, you can tell he's been studying all summer. You can go on vacation with five weeks off, but he's been in his (play)book working."
Where things stand in the cornerback competition
Rookie JuJu Brents (hamstring) hasn't practiced yet, and fifth round rookie Darius Rush (shoulder) has been sidelined for the last handful of practices. We'll see how things shake out when both those players are cleared to practice – Steichen said Brents is doing well in his rehab and the Colts hope he'll participate in practice sooner rather than later.
On the field, we've seen plenty of Dallis Flowers and Darrell Baker Jr. over the first week of training camp. Baker had a couple of physical pass break-ups during Monday's practice, while Flowers has high expectations for himself in 2023.
Regardless of who starts, the Colts will be young at cornerback this season – except for in the slot, where a rejuvenated Kenny Moore II has been one of the standouts of training camp so far.
Notes from other position groups beyond QB and CB
Running backs: With Jonathan Taylor on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list and veteran Zack Moss sustaining an arm injury Monday, the Colts have been pleased with the work put in by third-year back Deon Jackson and rookie Evan Hull, among others. Hull has shown some burst with the ball in his hands and was regarded as one of the best pass-catching running backs in this year's NFL Draft, while Jackson has flashed the versatile playmaking ability he put on tape at times during the 2022 season.
"DeAndre Smith, our running back coach, has done a heck of a job with those guys getting them prepared day in and day out in the meeting rooms and then transferring it over to the field," Steichen said. "I like where the group is at. I thought they had a good day today but obviously we got stuff to improve on everywhere."
Moss is expected to miss about six weeks, Steichen said, which could put him in play for the Colts' Sept. 10 season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Wide receivers: How the Colts use rookie Josh Downs and veteran Isaiah McKenzie out of the slot will be interesting to see play out during training camp, preseason games and into the regular season – while they have similar body types, they bring different skillsets to the offense. ... Both Alec Pierce and Michael Pittman Jr. have shown good connections with Minshew and Richardson. ... Third-year wideout Mike Strachan made one of the plays of camp on Tuesday:
Tight ends: Kylen Granson has been a favorite target of Minshew and Richardson early on. "Kylen's got juice," Minshew said. "He can get open. He's got a little shake, he's fast, he's smart, he knows how to run routes, he knows how to win. He's a great guy to throw to. I'm excited for him." ... It's been good to see Drew Ogletree on the field and moving well after a torn ACL ended what looked to be a promising 2022 season before it began. ... Jelani Woods has missed the last two practices with a hamstring injury.
Offensive line: The Colts have rolled out the same starting five offensive linemen they had in the second half of the 2022 season to begin training camp, believing in the talent of that group and the coaching of O-line coach Tony Sparano Jr. ... That's meant Will Fries has had the first crack at winning the right guard job with undrafted free agent Emil Ekiyor also among those in the mix. And there's no better way to evaluate that spot than seeing him go against the Colts' interior tandem of DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart.
"It's a great measuring stick when you're playing against guys like Buck and Grover in there and even the guys we have behind those guys," Sparano said. "It's a really, really good measuring stick for our players because if we can block them, you can block most defensive tackles in this league. So, just evaluating every rep and situation they're in and at the end of the day, see where we're at."
Defensive line: Speaking of Buckner and Stewart, they each took turns blowing up goal line run plays during Tuesday's full-padded practice. Later in the day, Stewart made sure he took the last one-on-one D-line vs. O-line rep and had a competitive battle with left guard Quenton Nelson. ... Defensive tackle Taven Bryan had a nice pass rush move in that one-on-one period, too. ... As a whole, we've seen some impactful four-as-one pass rushes from the defensive line, which has included guys like Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo.
Linebackers: Shaquille Leonard has been on the field for everything but padded 11-on-11 portions of practice. The three-time first-team AP All-Pro continues to be encouraged by his progress: "So far, so good," Leonard said. "I just continue to come out here and work on the small details of planting my feet, keeping everything inside my frame and when I do make contact, break my hips. It's been a while since I made contact, so gotta make sure I'm doing it properly instead of protecting my back." ... Zaire Franklin has set the physical tone for the Colts' last two padded practices, and had a pass break-up on Tuesday. ... Segun Olubi notched the Colts' first takeaway of training camp when he intercepted Minshew during Tuesday's practice.
Safeties: With Julian Blackmon (hamstring) sidelined, 2022 third-round pick Nick Cross has had plenty of work at strong safety. "He's in the right spots," Steichen said. "You want to make sure guys are knowing what they are doing. I like where he's at and he's continuing to improve and we've got to keep that going." ... Blackmon has maintained a vocal presence from the sideline, shouting out alerts and directives to the defense.
Special teams: Seeing Rigoberto Sanchez have both booming punts and downed-near-the-goal-line directional kicks has been great to see after he missed the 2022 season with an Achilles' injury sustained last training camp. It's been a long road for Sanchez to get back, and his teammates recognized it by cheering and hollering after his first punt of camp during Saturday's practice. "I just took it head on and grinded it out and here we are," Sanchez said. "I'm just very thankful. ... I don't think about it anymore. I'm full-go and I'm just happy to be here."