INDIANAPOLIS — After an off day for the players, the Indianapolis Colts returned to the practice field Friday for their fourth fully-padded training camp practice at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. What were some of the top takeaways from the day?
» Among those returning to practice Friday were tight end Mo Alie-Cox and tackle Brandon Hitner. Alie-Cox earlier in the day was removed from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, and took part in his first training camp practice of the year, mostly being limited to positional drills.
» Among those not participating in Friday's practice: wide receiver Chad Williams (unknown), cornerback Kenny Moore II (groin), cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (unknown), tight end Xavier Grimble (unknown), guard Chaz Green (unknown), tackle Braden Smith (foot), wide receiver Marcus Johnson (unknown), tight end Jack Doyle (neck), defensive tackle Sheldon Day (knee), defensive tackle/end Denico Autry (ankle) and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (hand).
» Speaking of Buckner, he was spotted chatting it up with former great Colts pass rusher Robert Mathis at the beginning of today's practice. Mathis was set to be inducted into the Colts Ring of Honor this season, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic that ceremony has been postponed until 2021.
» Friday's practice had a clear theme: red zone and goal-to-go work. It started early with quarterback drills, as all four QBs took aim at two circular throwing nets. They were set up pretty high off the ground, both in the back of the end zone on either side of the field goal post and also in the two back corners of the end zone. Both Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett were able to get the ball in the net multiple times at both locations.
» The first-team offense was able to work through some sloppiness early on in 11-on-11 work; on the second play of the day, Tyquan Lewis (continuing his strong start to camp) would've logged a blindside sack on Rivers, who couldn't quite get through all his progressions on a slowly-evolving play, and then on the very next play there was a botched snap between Rivers and center Ryan Kelly. As Rivers said earlier this week, though, it's good to get this kind of stuff out of the way now, and it's nothing that can't be fixed — as the unit showed with much sharper work moving forward throughout the rest of the session Friday.
» The Colts want fast linebackers out on the field, and that was on full display throughout Friday's practice. It started with Bobby Okereke blowing up a quick pass to wide receiver Ashton Dulin, and also was evident on at least a couple reps with Zaire Franklin, who had a really nice day on Friday; Franklin hustled to knock down a would-be screen play to the running back during red zone work, and then made a terrific play to knock the ball out during 7-on-7 work, also in the red zone.
» Lots has been made early on about the rapport being built between Rivers and his receivers and running backs, but let's not forget about the tight end position, specifically with newcomer Trey Burton. Rivers and Burton have connected on several passes just about every day, but it seemed to be especially apparent on Friday, as the two hooked up for a nice touchdown play in red zone work on the far end of the field on what might've been considered one of those "teach tape"-level routes by the veteran tight end.
» Staying at tight end for a moment, Ian Bunting flashed as a run blocker on two plays in particular — one on a Jordan Wilkins run that got sprung for a big gain, and another on a reverse play in which he was out in front clearing the way for another significant chunk.
» Safety Malik Hooker made a nifty play to prevent a quick pass to Campbell from going anywhere, downing the quick receiver around the line of scrimmage. Hooker was really the last line of defense in the area. It's these kinds of plays that Hooker told the media earlier in the week he's been working on increasing heading into his fourth season; everybody knows how good he is out in coverage as the "centerfielder," but he wants to also be just as impactful inside the box.
» For a second straight practice, safety George Odum made a solid play deep in coverage against Campbell. On Wednesday, Odum draped the receiver and picked off Rivers' pass attempt; this time, Odum had an all-out effort to knock Rivers' over-the-top pass attempt to the ground.
» We're seeing rookie Danny Pinter getting more and more work at center in recent days. Pinter's ability to adjust to new positions is quite impressive; he entered Ball State as a tight end, he moved to right tackle his junior year, and by last year he was an All-Mid-American Conference selection and considered by Pro Football Focus to be one of the best run blockers in the country. Now with the Colts, the fifth-round pick has moved inside, as he's taken plenty of snaps at right guard and, more recently, at center.
» Rivers looked very decisive in a red zone 7-on-7 drill, firing likely would-be touchdown passes to Nyheim Hines and Zach Pascal. Cornerback Tremon Smith, meanwhile, made a nice play in coverage to knock a Jacoby Brissett pass attempt to Dezmon Patmon straight in the air, and linebacker Matthew Adams came sliding in for a possible interception. We'll overrule it, however, as general manager Chris Ballard was standing right there behind the end zone and labeled it an incomplete pass. Brissett and Patmon would get their revenge on the very next play, however, as the rookie wide receiver was able to haul in a touchdown in the back corner against cornerback Jackson Porter.
» Practice ended with a lively red zone 11-on-11 period. It started from the 17-yard line, as Green sealed off the edge for a big Marlon Mack run. Shortly after, Rivers found Hines, but just as it looked as if the running back was possibly going to get to the end zone, he was met by cornerback Rock-Ya Sin, who playfully lifted Hines up in the air. Getting closer to the goal line, rookie wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. also had a touchdown reception on a quick in route against Smith.
» Funny moment at the end of practice, as the offense attempted a Hines run play on 2nd and Goal from the 3. There was a, let's say, slight disagreement between the offense and the defense about whether Hines got into the end zone before he would've been whistled down. The team turned to George Li — the Colts' Senior Football Strategy Analyst/Game Management — who had a good view of the play standing just out of bounds by the front pylon. Li signaled touchdown, drawing a little ribbing from the defenders. "George! No! George!" Ballard, for the record, did not believe it was a touchdown.
» Special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone was also having his guys working hard on gunner work during those punt drills, both in coverage and defending the gunner with the return unit. This has been a specialty of the Colts' since Ventrone was hired back in 2018; since that time, the team ranks first in the NFL punt return average (13.2 yards) and third in the league in punt return average allowed (5.3 yards).
» The 1-on-1 reps between the pass catchers and the defensive backs took on a little bit more meaning Friday, as they were conducted inside the 5-yard line. The corners and safeties claimed an 17-11 advantage over the wide receivers and tight ends on this day, with a "win" being described as either a catch by the receiver or any other result for the defensive backs.
» Wide receiver Parris Campbell utilized a nasty double move to shake cornerback T.J. Carrie on his first 1-on-1 rep of the session. Carrie would rebound nicely, though, earning hard-fought wins over two other quick receivers in DeMichael Harris, Ashton Dulin, earning loud praise from cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon.
» Safety Khari Willis showed his persistence in a late 1-on-1 rep against Green, who appeared to come down with the football in the back-middle of the end zone for a touchdown, but Willis never stopped fighting, knocking the ball out at the very last second to force the incompletion as his defensive teammates swarmed him.
» Rookie quarterback Jacob Eason had a money throw on an early 11-on-11 rep to the tight end Green, who had a nice effort on the out route to hop in the air and snag the pass and stay in bounds. Whenever Eason unleashes passes like these, it's crystal clear why he was believed to have perhaps the best-overall throwing arm of any quarterback in this year's draft class.
After a team off-day the Indianapolis Colts are back on the field at Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center for training camp.