INDIANAPOLIS — As the saying goes, there are really only two seasons: football season, and waiting-for-football season.
For the Indianapolis Colts, waiting-for-football season began Jan. 13, the day after the team’s Divisional Round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
And on Thursday, the team held its third and final veteran minicamp practice, officially signaling the end of its 2019 offseason workout program, leaving just 87 days before football season officially gets underway Sept. 9, when the Colts travel to take on the Los Angeles Chargers to open up the 2019 regular season schedule.
But what did we learn in the 151 days between the start of the offseason and the end of the offseason workout program? Here are some of the top takeaways:
» Awards season: Before completely moving on to the 2019 season, several Colts were recognized for their performances throughout 2018. Of the more notable awards, quarterback Andrew Luck was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and linebacker Darius Leonard was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, while head coach Frank Reich was named the AFC Coach of the Year at the NFL 101 Awards.
» Taking care of your own: The Colts didn’t waste much time ensuring several key players would be back for at least the 2019 season, as the team this offseason re-signed the likes of kicker Adam Vinatieri (Jan. 28), guard Mark Glowinski (Jan. 29), tight end Ross Travis (Feb. 26), defensive tackle Margus Hunt (March 5), cornerback Chris Milton (March 13), cornerback Pierre Desir (March 14), safety Clayton Geathers (March 20), tackle J’Marcus Webb (April 5), punter Rigoberto Sanchez (June 4), long snapper Luke Rhodes (June 11) and cornerback Kenny Moore II (June 13). General manager Chris Ballard has repeatedly discussed the importance of rewarding the players who not only produce — and all these players have held up their end of the bargain in that area — but who also represent everything that the organization stands for. While the team had plenty of cap space entering the offseason — usually at times more than any other team in the league – Ballard wanted to make sure he had enough room to take care of his own players’ new deals, and the Colts have met that goal this offseason.
» Welcome to the squad: But while the Colts will see many returners from last year’s team, Ballard and his staff, as well as Reich and his staff, have also been hard at work making tweaks, big and small, to the roster to continue adding talent and competition on offense, defense and special teams. In free agency, the Colts signed wide receiver Devin Funchess, who brings a rare mixture of size (6 foot 4, 225 pounds), speed and route-running ability to the offense. On defense, Indy brought in veteran Justin Houston and his 78.5 career sacks with the hope that switching him from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 defensive end will only add to his résumé as a pass-rushing nightmare.
» With the next pick…: Last year, the Colts had one of the better draft classes in recent memory, as Leonard (a second-round pick) and guard Quenton Nelson (a first-round pick) each became the first pair of rookie teammates to be named First-Team All-Pro since 1965, when future Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers accomplished that feat with the Chicago Bears. And that’s on top of several other 2018 Colts draft picks that made major contributions throughout their rookie seasons, guys like Braden Smith at tackle, Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis at defensive end, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins at running back and Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin at linebacker. And as great as that draft class was, Ballard and his scouting staff knew the pressure was on to do it all over again with the 2019 draft class — and they delivered. The Colts ultimately made four trades throughout the draft to acquire 10 picks in all: cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, linebacker Ben Banogu, wide receiver Parris Campbell, linebacker Bobby Okereke, safety Khari Willis, cornerback Marvel Tell III, linebacker E.J. Speed, defensive end Gerri Green, tackle Jackson Barton and center Javon Patterson. The team’s first four picks, all coming in the second and third rounds, couldn’t have gone better, as the team added at two major positions of need — corner and wide receiver — while it also added two quick, athletic pieces at linebacker who can play all over the field. Many of these guys were also seen already getting in first-team reps during offseason workouts, so while the development needs to be accelerated in July with the start of training camp, it’s safe to say the future is extremely bright in Indianapolis.
» A few changes up front: One of the more major changes made by the Colts this offseason might not even really be noticeable to the naked eye, but it’s certainly got Reich fired up. The team brought in all new coaches to lead the offensive line in Chris Strausser and Klayton Adams, while Howard Mudd, the legendary offensive line coach during the Peyton Manning Colts era, was lured out of retirement to return to Indy’s staff as a senior offensive assistant. The Colts last year made a huge turnaround in pass protection, going from the most-sacked team in the NFL in 2017 (56) to the least-sacked team in the league in 2018 (18), nearly a 68-percent decrease year-over-year. But Reich wants to see major strides this year in the run game, which finished 20th in the league in total yards, and 22nd in yards-per-attempt (4.2). In fact, Reich has a lofty goal for his offense in 2019: he wants to have a top-five rushing attack. In doing so, he believes, that will undoubtedly open up more plays down the field in the passing game against defenses that are forced to pack the box to respect the run. It’ll be interesting to see these concepts develop further in training camp, when the pads are allowed to come on and live hitting, even in short bursts, becomes the norm.
» On the mend: Several Colts players spent most, if not all, of their offseasons recovering from respective injuries or procedures. Fortunately, Reich and Ballard have indicated none of these issues are expected to really linger into training camp. Among those who have missed significant time are wide receiver Deon Cain (knee), tight end Jack Doyle (hip), tight end Eric Ebron (groin), safety Clayton Geathers (knee), Leonard (ankle), Luck (calf), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (undisclosed) and tight end Ross Travis (knee). Of those players, both Ebron and Sheard were both able to get in some work during the first two weeks of minicamp, setting in motion some positive momentum heading into a few weeks off.