WESTFIELD, Ind. — For the first time since January, Colts players will get to play football against someone wearing a helmet that does not have a horseshoe on it.
The Carolina Panthers will arrive at Grand Park on Thursday for two joint practices (both starting at 4 p.m.) with the Colts ahead of Sunday's preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts have held a dozen training camp practices in Westfield up to this point; they've tested themselves plenty against each other.
Now, this team will get to see where it stacks up compared to different, actually opposing competition.
"It gives us a real challenge and a real test to see exactly where we're at as a group," defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammed said. "It's great to play against someone else."
The next two days will be important for quarterbacks Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger, who (with Carson Wentz out) began splitting snaps with the Colts' first-team offense on Tuesday. They've both been tested against the Colts' defense — which, collectively, has had an excellent camp — but there's a different energy when it's a different team lining up across the line of scrimmage.
There's also a different level of mental preparation and processing that'll take place for the Colts' quarterbacks against Carolina's defense.
"They have a different system, different players so it's going to take adjusting and almost really game planning," Ehlinger said. "It'll be pretty game-like to sit down and understand, okay, this is the defense they play, this is their fronts, blitzes, coverages, adjusting protections, things like that. So I'm looking forward to the challenge."
But Eason and Ehlinger are hardly the only Colts players with important days ahead in these, as Ehlinger said, game-like practices. The Panthers will bring a wide array of talent to Westfield, like quarterback Sam Darnold, running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receivers D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, left tackle Taylor Moton, edge rusher Brian Burns, safety Jeremy Chinn and cornerback Jaycee Horn, among others.
Those individual players will present challenges for the Colts in competitive one-on-one drills, while defensive coordinator Phil Snow brings 45 years of coaching experience and offensive coordinator Joe Brady is considered one of football's brightest young offensive minds. Facing a different scheme from Matt Rhule's Panthers will be a challenge for the Colts in team drills, too.
"Back at the Senior Bowl I actually had a chance to get coach by Matt Rhule and them. I did a week of their practice and it's a physical day," tight end Kylen Granson said. "So I expect it's going to be really physical, really competitive but a lot of good work."
These will be the third joint practices the Colts will host at Grand Park, following 2019 (Browns) and 2018 (Ravens). And the competitive-yet-collaborative nature of these next two days will be a significant opportunity for the Colts to get better individually and as a team.
"Everyone's pros, we'll work together and to make good use of that two days," Reich said. "These two days are important."