INDIANAPOLIS — It’s beginning to look a lot like football.
That’s the feeling around the Indianapolis Colts’ team facility today, as the team begins its first of three weeks of organized team activiity (OTA) practices.
The OTAs represent Phase 3 of the NFL’s offseason workout program. Phase 1 is limited to just strength and conditioning, as well as classroom work, while Phase 2 allows for players and coaches to conduct positional drills on the field, but more competitive work — such as one-on-ones, 7-on-7s or 11-on-11s — is off the table.
Phase 3, meanwhile, allows for just that: competition. While players can’t wear full pads, and contact is still not allowed, they can go up against their own teammates in much more of a traditional practice setting.
The Colts will have three days of OTA practices a week for the next three weeks — with one extra day a week dedicated to more of a Phase 2 setting — before kicking off their three-day mandatory minicamp on June 12.
So what are some key items to look for in this year’s round of OTAs?
• Position battles
While it’s way too early to determine any sort of depth chart, these OTA practices will be a terrific opportunity to see where each position stands currently for the Colts.
On offense, we’re expecting a battle at wide receiver, where T.Y. Hilton is the established No. 1 guy, but it could really be a toss-up after him. Ryan Grant, who signed in free agency, and third-year veteran Chester Rogers are certainly in play at No. 2 and 3, but the team also has a couple draft picks — Daurice Fountain and Deon Cain — who hope to shake things up and earn spots.
Then there’s the offensive line, where the Colts have done a lot of work already this offseason. The team is looking for a solid starting five to establish continuity heading into training camp, preseason and the regular season, so could today’s practice give a glimpse at who’s leading in those races?
Defensively, there’s so much in the air. With the change to the 4-3, which former outside linebackers are going to be major pieces now as defensive ends? Who all is in the mix along the interior of the defensive line? And what do the Colts do at all three linebacker spots, where the team is almost assured to be extremely young across the board?
Then, on special teams, the core guys — Adam Vinatieri, Rigoberto Sanchez and Luke Rhodes — stay the same. But who does coordinator Bubba Ventrone like at returner? Which players are going to be counted on to play key roles on the coverage teams?
• New systems
By virtue of having a new head coach in Frank Reich, the Colts last month were able to hold a voluntary veteran minicamp, which featured Phase 3 rules.
While it was a terrific opportunity for the new coaches and players to get acquainted with one another in a practice setting, Reich said he was looking forward to getting the next few weeks to really hone in on establishing the team’s new schemes and focusing on individual fundamentals.
So today’s start of OTAs means the team can put it all together. Back in a Phase 3 setting, it’s pretty much a full-go practice (outside of no pads or contact being allowed), but the players have an even better sense of their new systems, and where they fit in them.
• Will Luck throw?
Andrew Luck said he hopes to be 100 percent ready to go by the start of training camp.
But will the Colts quarterback be throwing a football anytime between now and then?
Doing just that, throwing a football, simply hasn’t been part of Luck’s rehab work since he was shut down and placed on Injured Reserve on Nov. 2. Instead, he’s been focusing on strength work, as well as working on a new base to throw from with the hopes that it will help alleviate the pressure on his shoulder.
With the strength portion of his rehab work expected to wrap up anytime now, however, the next step for Luck would be throwing a regulation NFL football after exclusively working with a smaller football, as well as weighted balls, the past few months.
But will Luck use the OTAs, or maybe even the mandatory minicamp, to start the throwing process? Maybe, maybe not; he told reporters on April 9 that “I don’t anticipate doing too much or you guys seeing me doing too much out there” during the offseason workout program.
That’s certainly been the case to this point, as Luck has been working on his footwork, but not throwing like the rest of the quarterbacks, during Phase 2 workouts, but stay tuned to Colts.com for the latest if and when he does decide to get started throwing again.
• Welcome to the NFL
Today’s start of OTAs also means the Colts’ rookies will get their first chance to show what they’re worth against their veteran teammates.
How do the team’s 11 draft picks stack up? Which undrafted players will use that chip on their shoulder to impress the coaching staff?
It’s time to figure it all out.