INDIANAPOLIS —For many Colts players, Saturday's training camp practice brought back the memories.
The team held its second, and final, open-to-the-public 2017 camp practice session at Warren Central High School, where a crowd of 7,000 came to Indy's east side to get their final look at the Colts before they take the field for the first time in the preseason next Sunday against the Detroit Lions at Lucas Oil Stadium.
That "Friday Night Lights" type feeling on Saturday was especially meaningful to two Colts players. Rookie guard Deyshawn Boyd actually attended and starred at Warren Central — which features one of the better-known football programs in the Midwest — while tight end Jack Doyle, who attended Cathedral High School, grew up just minutes from the Warren Central campus.
So what were the takeaways from the Colts' sixth practice of the 2017 Training Camp?**
- We got a much clearer picture of the offensive line depth on Saturday. With Joe Haeg, who had been playing left guard with the first-team offense, and Jack Mewhort, who recently moved over from left to right guard with the No. 1s, taking a rest day, according to head coach Chuck Pagano, the team inserted Jeremy Vujnovich at left guard and Denzelle Good at right guard for most of the reps with the No. 1 offense.
Good was a starter along the line last season, but Vujnovich might be a little bit more of an unknown for Colts fans. He's bounced around a little bit since being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers in 2014, signing to the Packers' practice squad the next two seasons and then spending last year going back and forth between the Colts' practice squad and active roster. He ended up playing in his first two-career NFL games in 2016.
At 6 foot 5 and 300 pounds, this Louisiana College product certainly has the size to play both inside and out for offensive line coach Joe Philbin, so keep an eye on No. 67 the rest of camp and the preseason.
- Offensive line wasn't the only position under the microscope on Saturday. The tight ends were without Mo Alie-Cox, who also watched off to the side (presumably also with a rest day), two names in particular were seen in and out with the first-team offense alongside Doyle, the No. 1 tight end: Darrell Daniels and Brandon Williams.
Williams was a free agent acquisition brought in this offseason by new general manager Chris Ballard, and has been more of a special teams standout in his four previous seasons in the league. In fact, since going undrafted out of Oregon in 2012, and then signing with the Panthers in 2013, he has been targeted just 11 total times, logging six career catches for 80 yards (13.3 yards per catch). But the Colts need someone to backup Doyle and Swoope who can do the dirty work — getting solid blocks and pulling defenders away from other weapons — and Williams can definitely be that guy.
Daniels, meanwhile, is a new face to the Colts, as well. He was a standout at Washington, earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors after catching 17 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns for the Huskies, who claimed the Pac 12 championship and earned a berth in the College Football Playoff a year ago. At 6 foot 3 and 246 pounds, Daniels might not be as big as other options currently on the roster, but he's obviously doing something right.
- Speaking of Daniels, the first play of the 11-on-11 drills on Saturday could've been catastrophic for the team — and, in particular, its rebuilt defense. Daniels and defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins collided towards the end of the play, and both took their time getting back up to their feet.
Hankins — perhaps the biggest free agent acquisition of the entire offseason for the Colts — would miss a few plays before returning, and Pagano later confirmed he suffered an ankle injury and will be further evaluated tomorrow.**
OTHER PRACTICE MUSINGS**
Friday's practice wasn't the greatest for the Colts' offense, which saw each quarterback picked off on the day, while the run game seemed stifled at times. While that can be chalked up to good defense — and oftentimes early on in camp defenses are just naturally ahead of offenses — the Colts' O had a nice rebound of sorts on Saturday. Quarterback Scott Tolzien led the starting unit on a couple nice scoring drives, both of which occurring in crunch time.
With no time left in the first 11-on-11 session, Tolzien threw into a tight window in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, and he would end practice by leading a "winning" drive, connecting with T.Y. Hilton on a big play down the sideline before running out the clock and kicking a field goal to pull ahead.
The Indy run game also looked much better on Saturday, especially in the red zone, where Frank Gore and Robert Turbin muscled their way into the end zone on multiple occasions.
- First-round pick Malik Hooker watched Saturday's practice from the sideline for the first time since coming off the PUP list with a tweaked hamstring earlier in the week. There's apparently no cause for concern, however; Pagano said Hooker is "just sore," and it was expected the safety was going to be on a bit of a pitch count, anyway, following two offseason surgeries.
- Special teams was a huge emphasis throughout Saturday's practice. After individual drills, the team opened up with a lengthy focus on kickoff return/coverage, and then after wrapping up their first round of 11-on-11 action, the focus shifted to punt return/coverage. It was a good reminder that several spots on the final roster will come down to how the players perform on these units, specifically the next few weeks.
- John Simon is in the offensive backfield so much the team might as well give him a white practice jersey. The outside linebacker has been impressive so far in camp, but on Saturday, specifically, he was constantly working his way into the offensive backfield; and if he wasn't making a play, himself, he was ensuring the ballcarrier was moving in the direction of his other defensive teammates in blue. We knew Simon would be counted on to play a huge role in the rebuild of this Colts defense, but he's been even better than advertised to this point.
- With Donte Moncrief still nursing a minor shoulder issue, the team saw a couple wide receivers, particularly step up their play in Saturday's practice: Kamar Aiken and Bug Howard. Aiken showed off his size and speed — and good hands — on multiple plays, while Howard certainly took advantage of his reps throughout the late afternoon into the early evening. That's good news for the rookie Howard, who was sent to the locker room early during Friday's practice after a mixup with cornerback Dante Blackmon.
- And last, and certainly not least, Saturday's practice session ended on the best of notes, as 10-year-old Michael Dieter, wearing a personalized No. 1 Colts jersey, took a handoff from Tolzien to the house for a touchdown. Dieter, a huge Colts fan, was just 5 days old when he underwent his first open heart surgery, and has since had seven more heart procedures — including a full heart transplant less than a year ago.
At one point, Dieter spent 126 days at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. But on Saturday, there he was on the Warren Central turf, following his blockers and juking his way into the end zone before being mobbed by the entire Colts team.
He was joined by his father, John; mother, Jennifer; sister, Gabrielle; and brother, Austin.
The following players did not participate in Saturday's practice: OL-Joe Haeg, WR-Harvey Binford, C/G-Brian Schwenke, OL-Jack Mewhort, WR-Donte Moncrief, QB-Andrew Luck, S-Malik Hooker, TE-Erik Swoope, S-Clayton Geathers, RB-Josh Ferguson and OLB-Deiontrez Mount. Haeg and Mewhort received rest days, according to Pagano, while Hooker was feeling "sore." Geathers, Luck and Schwenke remain on the PUP list.
Also during Saturday's practice, Hankins suffered the aforementioned injury to his ankle, while wide receiver Tevaun Smith went down with a groin injury, Pagano said.PAGANO QUOTEWORTHY
Chuck Pagano on if Saturday's practice, under the lights on a high school field, took him back to his own prep days:
"Yeah, no doubt about it. Doesn't matter how old you are. If you're 57 like Vinny (Adam Vinatieri) or 98 like myself (or) a 20-year old rookie, you love playing Friday night, Saturday night under the lights. It's pretty special."
PLAYER QUOTE OF THE DAY
Quarterback Scott Tolzien on the added meaning of practices now that the first preseason game — and the regular season, for that matter — are right around the corner:
"Truly, I mean this: every day has to mean something. It doesn't matter if the games are close or far away. Every day has to make a difference. If you think about it, there are 31 other teams that are getting better every single day and it's our job to keep up with them but at the same time focus on us. We don't need to focus on anybody else but our own team and our own daily improvement and not think too far ahead."
TWEET OF THE DAY
CAMP SCHEDULE** (all remaining practices closed to the public)
Sunday, August 6
2:20-4:50 p.m. – Practice
Monday, August 7
Players' Day Off
Tuesday, August 8
8:00-10:45 a.m. – Practice
Wednesday, August 9
8:00-10:45 a.m. – Practice
Thursday, August 10 – Joint practice with Detroit Lions
9:30-11:40 a.m. – Practice
Friday, August 11 – Joint practice with Detroit Lions
9:30-11:40 a.m. – Practice
Sunday, August 13
Preseason Game 1 – Indianapolis vs. Detroit – 1:30 p.m.
Monday, August 14
Players' Day Off
Tuesday, August 15
1:45-4:05 p.m. – Practice
Wednesday, August 16
8:00-10:45 a.m. – Practice
Thursday, August 17
8:00-10:45 a.m. – Practice*
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