Colts Rookie Watch: What We Learned About 2021 Draft Class in Training Camp

The Colts wrapped up training camp on Wednesday, and did so having seen important development and contributions from their 2021 draft class. 

WESTFIELD, Ind. — The first thing we learned about the Colts' rookie class is that Kwity Paye sure looks ready. 

It was evident to everyone watching Paye's preseason debut Saturday night against the Minnesota Vikings. Paye exploded off the snap, beat the tackle across from him with his hands and brought Kirk Cousins to the ground for his first sack. 

The pass rushing move Paye hit to get that sack against the Minnesota Vikings is one he worked on during training camp at Grand Park. Paye's process — his attention to detail and intentional approach to practice — has been just as noticeable as the results over the last few weeks. 

And the results, after all, have been consistently disruptive against the run and pass.

"He's able to build every day, and he's done that every day," defensive line coach Brian Baker said earlier in August. "He's been able to build because he's able to take the information that's happening out here, information we give him on film, information coaches are giving him, and he's able to really apply those things almost instantaneously. 

"You can see him processing that information as it's going in. And he's able to give it back to you — Kwity, what are they doing, what are you doing, that kind of thing, what happened on that snap. Well, I did this, he did that. That is really unique. I've coached some experienced guys that could not — they don't have a clue what just happened. And this kid knows right away as a rookie."

Paye, though, was not satisfied with his preseason debut.

"I felt like I could've played a lot better," Paye said. "But it's the first game and there is a lot to improve on. I'm excited."

The NFL jump hasn't been too big for Mike Strachan.

Strachan has been in the middle of the hyper-competitive Colts' receiver room, making plays nearly every day in practice and snagging five passes for 69 yards over two preseason games. For 1) a seventh-round pick, 2) a guy who didn't play in 2020 and 3) someone who played his college ball at D-II Charleston, Strachan has not looked overwhelmed at all by the leap in competition in Colts' training camp. 

Offensive coordinator Marcus Brady remarked earlier in camp the 6-foot-5, 225 pound Strachan was less raw than he expected. And wide receivers coach Mike Groh recently praised how quickly Strachan has been able to get up to speed. 

"He's invested his time from the time he got here in the spring to the summer and then in camp when it gets a little bit more intense and we're able to be around him all the time," Groh said. "But (I) spent a lot of time with him here studying, he's been able to pick things up really nicely, he's been able to learn the system and handle everything and then obviously you can see the physical skills that set him apart from a lot of guys. 

But there's also something somewhat innate about Strachan's skillset — his ability to time his jumps properly to use his 6-foot-5 length to high point throws. 

"You can be big but not have a sense of timing in terms of being able to elevate and take the ball off the rim," Groh said. "And he's got that. He's shown that sense of timing to be able to stick his foot in the ground and be able to go up and high point the ball, which is a unique skill. Everybody doesn't have that." 

Sam Ehlinger showed his "it" factor.

A strong start to training camp pushed Colts coaches to have Ehlinger split first-team reps with Jacob Eason while Carson Wentz (foot) was out. Ehlinger's ability to process information and have a pre-snap plan stood out, as did the moxie that made him a successful four-year starting quarterback at the University of Texas. 

"It's not too big for him, you can feel that," coach Frank Reich said. "He's got a presence about him and he has instincts. You can feel that he has good quarterback instincts. He understands. I told him yesterday, it's very apparent he understands how to keep the game simple and that's a big deal. He does a good job of that."

Ehlinger has thrown three interceptions in his two preseason games — he started and was picked off twice against the Minnesota Vikings — but has also shown a certain resiliency as he's competed with Jacob Eason to be the Colts' backup quarterback. 

"I think just staying in the moment, staying in the present and understanding the past doesn't affect the present or the future," Ehlinger said. "It's something that you definitely have to learn because obviously you don't want your first drive in a game to be an interception, but if you go in to that hole and you fall into that hole, then you are probably going to throw another one instead of responding the way you should."

Kylen Granson is involved.

Granson was one of the early standouts of training camp and continued to be involved at Grand Park. 

"He's playing fast," Brady observed back in late July. "Some of these young guys, they're making some mistakes here and there but we like what we see from him. He's growing, he's getting better. Again, we're installing something new every day so there's always something new for them to learn."

For Granson, he's had to adjust to the speed of the NFL in the sense that he can't necessarily out-run everyone who's lined up against him (although he can still out-run plenty of NFL defenders, too). 

"Now you've just got be a little more crafty. You can't just, 'Hey, I'm going to outrun you.' Now you're going to be like, 'Hey, I'm going this way,' and then go left," Granson said. "Or, 'I'm going this way,' and then actually go that way because they expect you to go there. You've just got to be a little more crafty. It's just all mind games now."

Dayo Odeyingbo Is On Track

While the Colts look like they'll get plenty of Week 1 contributions from their rookie class (safety Shawn Davis, by the way, has played 24 special teams snaps — seventh-most on the Colts entering the final preseason game; Will Fries has worked at both guard and center in training camp and has experience playing tackle in college, too), one player who will not make an immediate impact is defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo. 

Odeyingbo was placed on the active/non-football injury list prior to the start of training camp as he works his way back from an Achilles' injury suffered training for the Senior Bowl in January. While he may not be ready for Week 1, Odeyingbo's goal has always been to play in 2021, and Reich said recently the second-round pick is making good strides in his recovery. 

"He's making good progress considering where he was with (Eric) Fisher," Reich said, referencing the left tackle who's working his way back from a January Achilles' injury, too. "I think everything is kind of paralleling the course. We feel very optimistic and positive about what he's doing. It's funny you said that. I was just saying the same thing to Chris (Ballard) yesterday, 'Man, I just want to see that next step for him too.' I think we're getting close, but he's making good progress."

The Last Word

These good initial impressions from the Colts' draft class didn't happen by accident. They're a testament to three things: Each player's talent and dedication to his craft; the coaching around each player; and the front office's process to identify and scout each player. 

"Feel really good about it," Reich said. "Guys have come — we draft guys with a mentality that's mature, guys that know how to work, guys that fit into our culture really well. Everything's going really well for those young guys."

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