Fifty days seems like a lot of time to think about how the Indianapolis Colts will look when they arrive at Anderson University for training camp on Aug. 1.
Head coach Chuck Pagano’s team concluded eight weeks of offseason training activities and a three-day mini-camp on Thursday at the team complex.
Until they meet again at camp, here are five questions to ponder about the Colts.
1. Who starts up front? — While there’s plenty of time to analyze position battles and theorize on how certain spots could shake out, the O-line is still priority No. 1 when the Colts put on the shoulder pads. Specifically, will Gosder Cherilus be healthy to start at right tackle? If not, does left guard Jack Mewhort slide there because Donald Thomas has recovered from his quadriceps injury? Will Khaled Holmes stick at center over second-year pro Jonotthan Harrison? What seems to be settled for now is Anthony Castonzo will again anchor the line at left tackle and newcomer Todd Herremans is slotted at right guard. Beyond that, as the team likes to remind, there are several possibilities. What the Colts don’t want is a repeat of last season, when they were forced into 11 different starting combinations.
2. What if Robert Mathis needs time? — If anything can be discerned from owner Jim Irsay’s statements about his six-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker, the Colts won’t push Mathis in August because all they care about is that he’s healthy at some point. While Mathis is the ultimate competitor and wants to prove his Achilles tendon is no longer an issue, it makes sense for the Colts to proceed through the exhibition schedule by not relying on the 34-year-old pass rusher. Give those snaps to the other guys so they can benefit from playing time. Second-year pro Jonathan Newsome led the team in sacks as a rookie and will be anxious to show he deserves snaps in the rotation. Seriously, if given the choice, would you rather have a healthy Mathis returning as close as possible to his old form for the second half of the season and the playoffs as opposed to risking a setback before that? He won’t like that, but it’s the smart move.
3. What about the other injuries? — Expect the same cautious approach with new inside linebacker Nate Irving, whose 2014 was cut short after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in the eighth game. Outside linebacker Bjoern Werner and running back Vick Ballard obviously need strong preseasons. Werner probably isn’t going anywhere because he’s a former first-round pick, but he has to prove he can stay healthy and make some plays in the exhibition games. If not, he gets lost in the rotation. Ballard is a sentimental favorite, coming off knee and Achilles injuries that have deprived him of basically two seasons, but he has to show something to earn a roster spot. Frank Gore and Dan Herron are likely the first two guys at the position. Zurlon Tipton and rookie Josh Robinson make four. Where Ballard fits, if he does, probably depends upon his availability and progress.
4. Which rookies can make an impact? — Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett should get his opportunities to show his speed in the slot. They didn’t draft him in the first round to sit, but he’s also not going to unseat T.Y. Hilton and Andre Johnson out wide. Cornerback D’Joun Smith was selected with the 65th overall pick, but he might not see as much time with the base defense early on because Vontae Davis, Greg Toler and Darius Butler return. The Colts are invested in each of those guys, although Toler is entering a contract year. It’s always possible Smith forces his way into the equation, but that likely takes some time. Third-round pick Henry Anderson should get some snaps as Kendall Langford’s backup at defensive end. It’s important to have a strong rotation up front in the 3-4 scheme, so that means Anderson will have his opportunities to show his worth in preseason. The same can be said for fourth-round pick Clayton Geathers, who is expected to back up Mike Adams and Dwight Lowery at safety. But Lowery was signed to a one-year deal to provide another veteran presence. The Colts would love to see Geathers force his way onto the field, but again, that could take time. Beyond that, the rest of the draft class will be trying to earn roster spots by doing whatever they are asked. Barring a rash of injuries to guys in front of them, they probably won’t be contributing to the offense and defense right away.
5. Who are some undrafted hopefuls to keep an eye on? — Preseason almost always reveals some surprises from guys we don’t know much about. They stand to get most of the snaps in exhibition games, so there’s plenty of film to assess if they are worthy of a roster spot. It’s difficult to assess who will shine at that time, because they haven’t played real football yet, they’ve just run around in shirts and shorts. But if making a short list, undrafted hopefuls who could emerge are Western Michigan cornerback Donald Celiscar, Clemson safety Robert Smith, Toledo inside linebacker Junior Sylvestre and Harvard outside linebacker Zach Hodges. And that said, don’t be surprised if someone else is a sleeper.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.