INDIANAPOLIS — Tom McMahon keeps an open mind this time of year.
The Indianapolis Colts' special teams coordinator said that while he enjoys getting creative with the various drills and simulations he has his players running during OTAs, it's not until the third or fourth preseason game — when dozens of players are fighting tooth and nail for only a few open spots on the final 53-man roster — that he can really begin to sense what kind of group he has.
That's not to say the work the special teamers are putting in right now isn't important, however. Having a different pace doesn't mean the end goal isn't the same.
The more the Colts' special teams units can fix now, the fewer problems they have come September.
"I'm one of those guys — I'm not a 'fault' guy; I'm a 'fix' guy," McMahon told Colts.com. "So we look at it and say, 'What do we gotta fix?' And every unit has things — and the players see it — that we can get better at, and we're gonna take that challenge and we're gonna go after it real, real hard."
The league's offseason workout rules prohibit much, if any, contact, meaning the goal of the special teamers' on-field work during OTAs — particularly on punt and kickoff coverages — is to buy in to the schemes and fundamentals being taught, and then carry it over to live sessions with the pads on during training camp.
That process can be difficult, McMahon said.
"You know, without the pads on, it's hard," he said. "But the biggest thing we've gotta do is we've gotta challenge them in the classroom, and then out on the field, do things right in space as if a body's there. And that's what makes it hard, is it's just not real life."
2016 Organized Team Activities (OTA) - Week 6 - #3
To help the process, the Colts utilize various pieces of equipment — bags, pads, etc. — during OTA practices to help players quickly pick up what's being drilled.
"We've got to get creative — and we do — with our drills," said McMahon, who is entering his fourth season as the Colts' special teams coordinator in 2016. "You know, we try and basically create bodies out of the bags that you an use and things like that. And the players do a great job of buying into it."
So far, McMahon said he's been impressed with the Colts' rookie class, which understands that for most players, earning your stripes in the NFL oftentimes means contributing to special teams while you continue to learn and develop at your position on offense or defense.
The veterans on the team are helping drive that point home, too.
"You know, everybody's playing on teams — it doesn't matter what round, it doesn't matter where you came from," he said. "But everybody's doing a great job in the classroom and then they're carrying it over to the field, and our veterans are doing a good job of leading them and showing them the expectations."
McMahon said his theme of keeping an open mind doesn't change for those non-rookies who are trying to find a spot on the roster, as well.
"Regardless of what they did last year, you gotta forget about what someone did last year and you've got to go on to this year," he said.