WESTFIELD, Ind. – It's always instructive to hear from the experts on what they're looking for during training camp practices, especially in late July and early August.
Colts chief personnel executive Morocco Brown, then, explained what he's evaluating in these nascent stages of training camp.
"Studying how guys move," Brown said. "Right now they just have helmets on. Once we start hitting, then it's a different ball game. Then some of the guys that flash will disappear and some of the guys you didn't see athletically will pop up on the scene.
"... Every year, there's a guy that you wouldn't even want on the team that's going to start making plays and you have to consider them. I think the difference that separates it is when you put the pads (on) and contact comes into it because it's like NASCAR on cleats, it's full-speed and everybody may not perform the same way when it's not just contact but collisions on the field."
Brown and Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds sat down with the media late last week for a wide-ranging conversation on the outlook of the 2022 Colts. A few highlights from two of general manager Chris Ballard's top lieutenants:
What Matt Ryan brings on and off the field
Brown remembered a day in April when he showed up around 6 a.m. to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center for a draft meeting – and found the Colts' new starting quarterback at his locker having already worked up a sweat.
So Brown asked him – why are you here so early?
"Man, when you've been doing this for 14 years, it's just a part of your DNA, it's part of your routine," Ryan told Brown. "So, I want to be the first guy in and last guy out, and going to get some work in now."
Brown came away impressed with Ryan's commitment to and understanding of what it takes to be a team leader. And that approach has had a positive impact on everyone Ryan's engaged with since arriving in Indianapolis.
Dodds drew a line between the success the Colts had with Philip Rivers two years ago – an 11-5 record and the ninth-highest points per game average in the NFL – and what Ryan can bring to Frank Reich's offense in 2022.
""I just think when you watch someone like him, just the experience he has, and there is so much that goes on before the ball is snapped," Dodds said. "That's what – with everything Frank does and Marcus (Brady) is doing, that's so important. We knew he was going to be able to do that and you saw the success that we had with Philip (Rivers) right? They are longer than a tooth, maybe not as strong-armed as they used to be, but you watch the games and you could tell the guy knew where to go with it, when not to let it go and when to get out of a bad play.
"That stuff is so important. When you're sitting at home watching the game or even in the stands, you don't see all that – just all the little minutiae that goes into it when they are in the huddle to the line of scrimmage."
Why the Colts traded for Yannick Ngakoue
The Colts traded cornerback Rock Ya-Sin to the Las Vegas Raiders for Ngakoue in March – a move that sort of flew under the radar at the time when so many quarterbacks and wide receivers changed teams (Russell Wilson, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, etc.).
But Ngakoue, who's joined by Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald as the only players to have eight or more sacks every season since 2016, brings proven pass rushing juice a defensive line that the Colts focused on improving this year.
"We needed some speed off the edge," Dodds said. "We needed more pass rush, we knew that. Yannick has a history of production of coming after the quarterback. Gus (Bradley) had a lot of familiarity with him obviously. He spent a year with him. We played him twice a year before when he was with Jacksonville.
"I think it's just with those guys, I mean he has a proven track record of production and then you just spend time with them – use your sources, call around. I think you just get to a point where you're comfortable with it."
Early in camp, the Colts have already felt Ngakoue's impact on and off the field.
Expectations for Bernhard Raimann
Matt Pryor is getting the first crack at winning the Colts' left tackle job, but one of the biggest question marks Reich had going into training camp was how quickly Raimann, the third-round pick from Central Michigan, would pick things up.
Raimann will continue competing with Pryor for the next few weeks, and nothing he's done so far has changed the positive evaluation the Colts had on him during the pre-draft process.
"Some of the trajectory, we're looking at the talent piece of it, but it's where you are at that position, and like I said, we feel good about Matt Pryor, but you always want to add competition," Brown said. "Then you just say, 'Okay, who does the guy remind us of?' Does he have it within him to overcome and then from there you bet on the traits you saw, you bet on the person, the character and then you put him out here and just see where it goes. He's a guy that hasn't played long, made great strides starting out at tight end initially.
"He reminded us – there's some things you guys will see. He looked like Braden (Smith) when he came out. Guy is an athlete, big barrel-chested guy, strong. So, we'll bet on that every single time. We feel good about the athlete he is. We really value that here at every position."