WESTFIELD, Ind. — The spirit of training camp — an ultra competitive setting in which the coaching staff is constantly making evaluations for final roster spots — isn't going away anytime soon.
But the Indianapolis Colts 2018 training camp itself … well, that's officially wrapped up.
The Colts on Saturday held their 18th and final training camp practice in their inaugural year at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., marking an end to more than three weeks of meetings, practices, walkthroughs, team building — and did we mention meetings, practices and walkthroughs?
So what did we learn over the course of the past 23 days? Here are the top takeaways from #ColtsCamp 2018:
1. Andrew Luck's shoulder is no longer the storyline
Who could've guessed that after three weeks of training camp, Andrew Luck's mustache would command more attention than his shoulder?
But here we are, with the Colts now heading back to their (renovated) West 56th Street facility, and Luck not only seems to have complete command of the team's new-look offense — his surgically-repaired throwing shoulder is simply an afterthought.
That doesn't mean there still aren't boxes left to check for luck to get to 100 percent by the time the Colts take on the Cincinnati Bengals in their 2018 regular season opener on Sept. 9. But after being able to mimic a regular-season practice schedule as much as possible during training camp — basically throwing four days a week like he would on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday during the season — and by having a successful preseason debut (one in which he was able to take on some live hits, too), Luck has continued to see daily improvement.
And, perhaps most importantly, he's just having fun again.
"I feel stronger, I feel more fit, I feel like my arm has more in it and a little more in it and a little more in it," Luck said. "There has been a lot, a lot of positive things and I know trying to take the attitude of just get better every day, and I know our team is taking that attitude of just getting better every day. I really think that's been positive."
2. Let's get physical
Football is played in full pads, so why not practice that way?
That was the attitude of Frank Reich when it came to his first training camp as the Colts' head coach.
When all was said and done, team practiced in full pads for 67 percent of their camp practices this year (12 out of 18), and that's even considering that the pads can't even come on until the third practice session due to league/CBA rules.
Playing physical is important to any NFL team, of course, but having that tough mindset from the start is a critical part of Reich's entire coaching philosophy.
That's exactly what second-year general manager Chris Ballard was envisioning just prior to the start of training camp.
"You've gotta get yourself ready to play football, and you do that with the pads on and by being physical," Ballard told Colts.com's Bob Lamey. "And, look: we're building this thing up front, and we expect our O-line and D-line to be good for us — they have to be good for us to win. And to have any kind of success late into December, January, you've gotta be good up front. So we will have some spirited practices. It'll be good for our fans to watch."
3. Implementing new systems on both sides of the ball
Heading into training camp, it was anyone's guess how the depth chart would be filled out on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball for the Colts.
With a brand new coaching staff in place, we've seen a complete transformation scheme-wise on offense (which wants to be more fast-paced and get the ball out of the quarterback's hand) and on defense (which has shifted to a 4-3 base scheme vs. the 3-4 scheme utilized the last six years under former head coach Chuck Pagano).
So spring practices, as one might imagine, were filled with a heavy rotation of players moving in and out at just about every position, as the coaching staff was trying to get a good idea which guys might fit what roles the best.
So surely training camp — the official last hurrah before the start of the regular season — would eventually solidify those position battles, right?
Well, yes and no.
Naturally, by having the ability to watch practices in their entirety, we can begin to formulate in our heads who's playing where on the first, second and third teams. Our daily practice notes articles would be a good source to track those types of developments.
But that doesn't mean by any means most positions are set in stone as the team returns to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
Who's going to start at right tackle? Who fills out the depth chart at wide receiver beyond T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers? How many tight ends will the team keep? What's the rotation along the defensive line going to be? Can rookies handle starting at multiple linebacker spots? Are the Colts really going to utilize that many cornerbacks, depending on the package they're in? Will Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker be ready to go at safety by the start of the season? Who's going to be returning punts?
All of these are legit questions one could ask heading into the midpoint of the preseason, which kicks off Monday night, when the Colts play host to the Baltimore Ravens at Lucas Oil Stadium.
And I'd imagine these are going to remain questions right up to the team's cutdown from its 90-man offseason roster to its 53-man regular season roster following the fourth preseason game against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
4. What could've been…
The Colts, for the most part, were fortunate when it came to the low number of major injuries suffered by players during training camp. The give and take with football is that with the physical nature of the sport, players are simply going to get hurt from time to time (some years more than others).
Still, some injury issues did rear their ugly head the past few weeks.
Perhaps the most notable injury occurred to exciting rookie wide receiver Deon Cain, who suffered a torn ACL in the Colts' preseason opener Aug. 9 against the Seattle Seahawks. Cain had been the talk of camp the first couple of weeks, as he had seemingly made at least one, if not more, impressive catch each and every day. The bittersweet part of all this for Cain and the Colts is that the 2018 sixth-round pick out of Clemson now has plenty of time to get ready for next season.
Tackle Jared Machorro, who the Colts signed as an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M-Commerce, also suffered a season-ending injury early in camp, and was placed on IR July 31.
Then there was the mid-training camp retirement of veteran guard/tackle Jack Mewhort, who at 26 made a valiant effort to return from chronic knee and other injury issues, but just didn't feel like he was able to perform at a high enough level on a day-to-day basis to try to keep on going.
Other more minor injuries to players throughout camp forced others to step up. Those who missed a significant amount of time included starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo (hamstring), top swing tackle Denzelle Good (hamstring), young defensive building blocks Tyquan Lewis (foot) and Kemoko Turay (knee), top running backs Marlon Mack (hamstring) and Robert Turbin (ankle) and starting MIKE linebacker Anthony Walker (groin).
We're also waiting to hear an update on wide receiver K.J. Brent, who was carted off the field on Saturday with a knee injury.
5. Grand Park is a legit training camp home
We'd be remiss not to mention just how positive of an experience the Colts have had in their first year hosting training camp at Grand Park in Westfield.
In fact, I'd challenge anybody to find a better training camp home across the entire NFL.
Let's start with the Grand Park Events Center, which has served as the home away from home for the team the last three-plus weeks. With three 80-yard indoor fields, the Colts have had plenty of space to spread out and get their work done. The seating area overlooking the main field has allowed the team to bring in fans to watch indoor camp practices during inclement weather for the first time ever. The medical and dining facilities already in-house are top-notch. And the dozens of offices, meeting rooms and suites have allowed the coaches and player personnel folks to do their jobs with no inconveniences whatsoever.
The outdoor fields, meanwhile, was where the real work was put in during the team's practices. And if having three full-sized, 100-yard, well-manicured fields wasn't enough, the tremendous fan experience — with Colts City, themed practice days, lots of good food and entertainment and plenty of seating — surely takes the cake.
So thanks to those at Grand Park — including the large group of volunteers and public safety officials on hand — as well as those at the team hotel for their roles in making the first year of training camp at Westfield a huge success.