WESTFIELD, Ind. — The Indianapolis Colts on Saturday wrapped up their eighth of 16 training camp practices at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind. What are some of the top takeaways here at the halfway mark?
» 'Game speed:' While the Colts have taken additional measures to try to prevent those pesky injuries that research shows tends to pop up in the first seven to 10 days of training camp, that doesn't mean practices have been any less intense. In fact, head coach Frank Reich said he's felt an even better focus and intensity from his players this year compared to last year. "I would say we've cut practices a little shorter than we did at times last year, but we've really tried to maintain or ramp up intensity, the focus. We always talked about it last year as well, but just practicing at game speed (is) very important, and so that's really been a big focal point."
» Maintaining health: The Colts aren't going to completely escape the injury bug, but for the most part the team's issues have been on the minor side, requiring a couple days of maintenance here and there for some players. Reich said it gets "a little tricky" balancing the desire to have a full team out on the practice field vs. trying to ensure they're at 100 percent by the start of the regular season, but that he fully trusts his staff to keep him in the loop to make the best decisions possible. "I really rely a lot on our strength staff, on our athletic training staff, and we sit down and talk about it — not just, like, every couple weeks; we talk about it every day. You know, 'How's our intensity? Anybody that we need to look at modifying their workload?' Because you do want to get better, but you certainly want to train as well," he said.
» Working his way back: One of the Colts' injured players in camp is quarterback Andrew Luck, who continues dealing with nagging calf strain that he aggravated during the offseason. While Luck was a limited participant in three of the team's first four training camp practices — twice participating in 7-on-7 drills — the team has since decided to hold him out of its last three practices as it works on resolving the issue by Week 1 of the regular season. In the meantime, Luck has been treating the Colts' walkthroughs like his practices, which feeds into Reich's philosophy to treat everything up to the snap in walkthroughs like a game. "We talk about when we go through a walkthrough, we talk to the whole team about 'live until the snap,' or, 'game speed until the snap.' And what we're talking about there is a mentality that you get in the huddle, your body language the tone of your voice, your concentration level — you've got to put yourself in the moment. You've gotta feel like you're playing in a big game," Reich said. "Andrew does a phenomenal job at that, and I think our team is doing very well at that aspect, also."
» Brissett's shot: As the Colts' backup quarterback, Jacoby Brissett never can predict when his opportunities to take first-team reps will come — he's just got to be ready to go when he's needed. After starting 15 games in his first season in Indy in 2017 as Luck worked his way back from shoulder surgery, Brissett last season played just 18 total snaps. But with Luck sidelined with his calf injury, Brissett has been working with the first-team offense since the start of OTAs through minicamp and the first half of training camp this year, giving him invaluable experience along the way. And he's looked good doing it, too, Reich said. "He's gotten a ton of reps, and he's done very well," Reich said. "He's continued to get better and better. You can just see it; I can feel it every aspect. I think he's carrying himself more like a No. 1 quarterback, I think he's playing like that. And so that's just really good for our team. You know, it's unfortunate that Andrew hasn't been able to practice, but we're very positive about how he's progressing, and in the mean time this has been a big help to Jacoby."
Get a look on the field as the Indianapolis Colts are back in full pads for their sixth practice of training camp at Grand Park.
» Early impressions: The Colts last season had a rookie class that had no choice but to adjust quickly to the professional game and become key contributors for a team that won 10 games and advanced into the Divisional Round of the playoffs. And halfway through training camp this year, the Colts' new rookie class seems to have put itself on a similar path. Several 2019 draft picks have not only showed they belong, but they've stood out at various times, especially second-round picks Rock Ya-Sin at cornerback, Ben Banogu at defensive end and Parris Campbell at wide receiver; third-round pick Bobby Okereke at linebacker; fourth-round pick Khari Willis at safety; and fifth-round pick E.J. Speed at linebacker. "Rock has looked good; we knew he was super tough and super competitive. We've seen that — good playmaking skills," Reich said. "Ben Banogu at defensive end, he's shown he can get after the passer, so we're excited about Ben. And then Bobby Okereke's looked great. Of course, Parris Campbell, he's been hurt for the last couple of days, but we're very excited about him — and, really, the rest of the guys, even the rest of the draft picks and our (undrafted) free agents. You know, just feel good about what we're seeing on the field. These guys have to develop — there's a long way to go — but the early signs are very positive."
» Position battles: Eight practices in, the players have proven that they're going to make the cutdown process extremely tough on the Colts' coaching and personnel staffs. While one could make the case for "starters" at most of the team's spots on offense and defense at this point, the jobs behind those players are very much still up for grabs. Take wide receiver, for example: the Colts could likely keep as many as five or six guys, at most, on their 53-man roster heading into the regular season. But it seems as though a new guy at that spot has a standout practice each day. The good news is that the preseason games start Thursday on the road against the Buffalo Bills, which is when a little separation starts to occur. "It's going to be tough," Reich said. "We have a lot of confidence in these guys. And you're right; it just seems like every day somebody new is shining. But that's kind of the way our offense rolls; that's kind of our philosophy. We spread the ball around, we believe in our players, and Chris (Ballard) and his staff have done a great job of getting this group of wide receivers in here. It's hyper-competitive." Other notable battles are happening along the depth of the offensive line, running backs, defensive line, linebackers, cornerback and safety.
» Prime opportunity: Speaking of the preseason, the Colts are eagerly awaiting to see which young players are able to stand out when the lights come on and the results mean just a little bit more. While Indy typically approaches training camp practices as its prime game-like atmosphere for its veterans, the preseason is seen as a way for the younger guys to better establish themselves. "This is going to be a great opportunity, especially for a lot of our younger players who are going to get to play a lot," Reich said. "I mean, our starters won't play a whole lot going into this game, so we're going to be very selective and cautious on that. Because we have this philosophy of 'practice at game speed,' we just feel like we get to see that, and the preseason games are really even a better opportunity for the younger players to shine."