INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts on Thursday held their 10th and final 2019 OTA session at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. What did we learn during the three weeks of practices?
» Second year in system beneficial: Last year at this time, Frank Reich and his coaching staff were still in the process of installing their respective playbooks and teaching the players their various roles on offense, defense and special teams. Entering this offseason, the coaching staff hoped it could reap the benefits that come with a second year in the system, especially for the returning players — and there’s lots of them — who wouldn’t need to necessarily learn as much as they could pick up where they left off and use their results from the 2018 season to start getting into more advanced approaches moving forward. That has certainly been the case throughout the 2019 offseason workout program, but it was especially apparent in OTA practices, where the returning players — from the top of the depth chart to those on the practice squad last season — certainly seemed to have a much better grasp on what was being highlighted that day. “Now that they've already been through this for a year, this is just a review for them,” Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “So again, we know that we win games with fundamentals and techniques that we've really been able to focus even more so this offseason on, 'Hey, yeah, you guys know the words here and you know what the part of this system is. Hey, let's get to work on your footwork or your get-off,' or whatever it may be as far as the fundamentals go.”
» Quick learners: Still, it’s important to remember that this is the NFL, and there are naturally going to be several newcomers to the roster every year. Whether it was through free agency or the draft, general manager Chris Ballard and Reich have worked hand-in-hand to continue tweaking the 90-man roster to get as much talent as possible on the field at all times. In free agency, the team added key playmakers on offense (wide receiver Devin Funchess, running back Spencer Ware) and on defense (defensive end Justin Houston), and all those veterans have showed just how quickly they can pick things up and make a difference, even during non-contact OTA practices. Houston, specifically, has really made an impression on Reich, who said he felt the 30-year-old pass rusher’s “presence” during several junctures of on-field work. “Justin Houston, he’s done a lot in this league,” Reich said. “You can feel his leadership. Justin is a really savvy, smart player. You can tell his veteran leadership out there that this guy is a really smart football player. Then physically, just big and strong. I mean he is a big strong dude. So, I really feel like he is stepping in and not only going to provide us with production up front, but really a leadership that I guess I knew about, but probably not to the extent. I really sense a strong leadership from him even early on.”
» Thrown into the fire: The other newcomers this offseason are the Colts’ rookies, and specifically their 10-man 2019 NFL Draft class. Touted for their overall athleticism, the draft class certainly showed flashes of that talent throughout the three-week OTA period, including the one practice a week that was available to be seen by the media. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin was physical and sticky in coverage, logging a couple interceptions. Linebacker Ben Banogu mostly stuck to his college roots as a pass rusher, and was even seen this week lined up off the edge with the No. 1 defense during critical passing situations in 11-on-11s. Parris Campbell was lined up everywhere as a receiver, taking handoffs in jet sweep-type plays and picking apart the defense in the middle of the field, and also getting some reps as a punt returner. Linebackers Bobby Okereke and E.J. Speed and safety Khari Willis were other draft picks seen getting significant action during 11-on-11s. The Colts picked these guys not just for their tremendous potential, but, like last year’s draft class, for their ability to learn and be playmakers on the fly. They’re off to a good start.
» Working their way back: The Colts have had several key players working their way back from respective injuries throughout the offseason workout program. These guys include quarterback Andrew Luck (calf), wide receiver Deon Cain (knee), tight ends Jack Doyle (hip), Eric Ebron (groin) and Ross Travis (knee), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (injury not disclosed), linebacker Darius Leonard (ankle) and safety Clayton Geathers (knee). Reich and Ballard have said most of these players’ recovery timelines are not expected to last into training camp, however, and that being extra careful and conservative is the name of the game during OTAs, especially for a guy like Luck, who, according to Reich, would be able to play if this was the regular season. “The main thing is to get to camp at full strength,” Reich said. “So really any player who has any issue, we are just going to be overcautious.” Those players being out created opportunities for others to get reps in their place, including quarterback Jacoby Brissett, tight end Mo Alie-Cox, defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, linebacker Matt Adams and safety George Odum.
» Final step: The Colts next week embark on their final stage of the offseason workout program — mandatory veteran mincamp. The team is scheduled to report for physicals on Monday and then it will hold three days of practices to give the players a training camp-type feel before their month-and-a-half break. Speaking of camp, expect to hear more on the official 2019 Colts training camp schedule at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., sometime soon.