WESTFIELD, Ind. – Before zooming in on the Colts' final practice of training camp, let's zoom out and take a look at five big-picture observations from the last three weeks at Grand Park.
Anthony Richardson gained the trust of his teammates – and the Colts' starting quarterback gig. Richardson earned the Colts' QB1 title through his work ethic, poise, growth and talent, and now will be tasked with continuing to build chemistry with teammates over the next three weeks leading up to his NFL debut Sept. 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I thought he's done a great job commanding the huddle, A, and B, just seeing a lot of different things – seeing checks, using cadence when it applies and then also just being a great teammate," center Ryan Kelly said. "I'm sure that job comes with a lot of pressure so opening up in the locker room, making connections with the guys, I thought he's done a great job so far.
Shaquille Leonard took steps forward. The three-time first-team AP All-Pro linebacker progressed from participating in team drills early in camp to taking the field for full-padded, full-team practice periods, then to playing in the Colts' preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills. It's been a long, arduous journey for Leonard – and just having him back out on the field has been an inspiration for his teammates.
"When you think about Shaq and what he's endured physically, just on the outside looking in, we don't know exactly what all took place for him to be back on the field," cornerback Kenny Moore II said. "But I told him his first day back, that's truly a blessing to see a teammate be able to overcome and deal with certain things. To have something and then you don't really know what it is, and then being something else. You just got love and respect for him not only as a teammate but as a brother to just look at it and say man, keep going. I think we all look at it from that perspective."
The Colts' offensive line continued building toward a bounce-back season. We've seen nothing but good vibes – and good play – from the Colts' offensive line, which is rolling with the same five starters it had over the second half of the 2022 season. That's not an accident – it underscores the talent the Colts believe they have up front, and the coaching and mentality brought to that group by O-line coach Tony Sparano Jr.
"It's a big hats off to Tony," Kelly said. "When we came in April, I think he saw a room that was on the rebound after a depleting year, bringing the guys back together. And it starts in the room, it starts knowing each other, having fun and going out there and doing it for each other. And that's what we've tried to do all summer long."
Competition will continue, especially at a few key spots. The Colts will cut their roster down to 53 on Aug. 29, and there are plenty of intriguing roster/depth chart battles that'll continue right up to that date. For example: With Thursday's news that wide receiver Ashton Dulin was placed on season-ending injured reserve, the competition to fill out Reggie Wayne's wide receiver room will only heighten – especially in preseason games against the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles in the next week.
Two other ones: At cornerback, Darrell Baker Jr. and Dallis Flowers have had standout moments, but rookies JuJu Brents, Darius Rush and Jaylon Jones will continue to push those two second-year guys. And at tight end, a few players – Mo Alie-Cox, Will Mallory, Drew Ogletree and Jelani Woods – have missed time during training camp, potentially leaving that pecking order up in the air.
Shane Steichen has brought intensity and a no-nonsense emphasis on accountability. Kelly talked about this on Thursday, too – Steichen holds his players to the same high standard no matter if they're rookies or seasoned veterans, and there's no gray area in upholding it. The Colts have came across as a team that's focused and intentional about the work they put in during training camp, and that'll continue to carry over into the regular season.
"I think coaches in general, they get on you because they see better in you," Kelly said. "They see more potential. I think he's done a great job of that and we respect the hell out of him."
News, notes and observations from Thursday's joint practice with the Bears:
- Quarterback Anthony Richardson rushed for a couple of touchdowns during 11-on-11 red zone work. He also connected with running back Evan Hull for a touchdown during seven-on-seven.
- Wide receiver Mike Strachan made three impressive catches in each of his one-on-one reps to begin practice. Fellow wideout Michael Pittman Jr. had a nice snag in one-on-ones, too.
- Quarterback Gardner Minshew found Hull and wide receiver Amari Rodgers for touchdowns in seven-on-seven.
- Linebacker EJ Speed picked off Justin Fields after defensive tackle McTelvin Agim tipped the Bears quarterback's pass at the line of scrimmage in 11-on-11.
- Safety Nick Cross had a physical pass break-up of a Fields pass intended for wide receiver D.J. Moore in 11-on-11.
- Defensive end Kwity Paye had an effective day applying pressure on Fields.
- Safety Henry Black closed out the offense vs. defense portion of practice with an interception of quarterback P.J. Walker.