ANDERSON, Ind. — Each August, inquiring minds constantly crave the latest information from Indianapolis Colts training camp at Anderson University.
Who looks good? Who’s playing where? How about an injury update? Has anyone else gone down with an injury?
In 17 years of training camp, here’s the first and only truly important rule about this routine: What matters most is that guys walk out of here healthy in two weeks. Just look at the Houston Texans losing running back Arian Foster.
The Colts had their first scare Tuesday, when running back Vick Ballard pulled up a bit gimpy during a pass-catching drill. Some feared the worst, because Ballard has played only one game in two years due to season-ending injuries (ACL, Achilles), but the team said it was a tight hamstring. Exhale. Sigh of relief.
Beyond that, the guys have worn shoulder pads only once entering Wednesday night’s practice under the lights at Macholtz Stadium. They’ve been running around in shirts and shorts. Of course they look good on certain plays. Nobody is tackling. Nobody is hitting. Not really, not like in the old days when guys toughened up with full-contact scrimmages. Today’s NFL has reduced this part of the season to more mental preparation than physical.
So we pay attention to who is playing where, realizing this could change as soon as the preseason games begin or injured players return to the fold. For example, Lance Louis is getting most of the snaps at offensive left guard. That’s because Donald Thomas is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, just like outside linebacker Robert Mathis. And they’re both week-to-week, which means check back next week on their availability.
Ballard and inside linebacker Nate Irving were cleared to practice, but on a limited basis and they’re closely monitored. Irving has yet to participate. Ballard has been out there each day, although he exited early with that hammy.
Beyond that, nobody has suffered any serious setbacks. Just a couple of guy with cramps. That’s good news, although camp is just four days old.
And what of the other questions? You know, the ones everyone is seemingly asking. (Stop texting, emailing and hitting me up in social media on this, please.)
Everyone wants to know how rookie wide receiver Phillip Dorsett looks. Is the first-round pick as fast as advertised?
Will fourth-round pick Clayton Geathers challenge for playing time at safety? There’s been a lot of buzz about his potential.
Is Jack Mewhort settling in comfortably at offensive right tackle? Will the second-year pro be able to handle shifting from left guard?
The answer to all of these questions is a measured, “Yeah, sure.” Because nothing has truly been established yet. This is the beginning of a long process, what some of us reporters call “The Grind.” January seems like an eternity away.
Bottom line, what we’re seeing now isn’t the same as real tackle football. It doesn’t compare to when live bullets start flying in preseason games.
That’s when you get the best look at who’s doing what and where. That’s when you can start to surmise how the roster is shaping up. If a guy plays poorly then, nobody should be saying, “I don’t understand. He looked so good in training camp in shirts and shorts.”
Because NFL fans have an insatiable appetite for details and observations, some will offer supposed information to satisfy the demand. But there’s no substitute for knowing what you’re seeing and keeping it in perspective.
Seriously, it’s still way too early to get a read on most of the answers to the questions everyone wants answered. Don’t fall into that trap because someone somewhere thinks Dorsett sure looked fast on a given play or Gore really hit the holes hard.
No argument on both accounts, so far, but it’s early. I’d expect most of the guys to look like they know what they’re doing because that’s what much of this is all about: Everybody getting on the same page, knowing the plays, the audibles, the defensive adjustments, the blocking schemes, the pass patterns, the blocking schemes, the coverages, the blitzes.
Colts coaches want to be sure these guys understand every aspect of the routine. That’s why rookies have to study so much more than say, seventh-year cornerback Vontae Davis, who understands the various pass coverage schemes and doesn’t have to think about it. He can just run and have fun because he knows what he’s seeing and realizes where he’s supposed to be and what to do depending upon what coverage defensive coordinator Greg Manusky calls.
The first preseason game is on the road at the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 15. That’s one day after the Colts break one week early from an abbreviated training camp. The team returns home for three days of in-house joint workouts with the Chicago Bears at the Colts’ complex.
That’s when preparation gets a bit more serious. That’s when coaches and players will have a better idea of where the Colts are at. We’ll all know a little more, yet will still have the same questions, presuming almost everybody stays healthy.
And yet, even then, there’s still several more weeks until the Colts open the season at the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 13. There are two rounds of roster cuts.
It’s all part of the process, as the saying goes. Keep that in perspective. Always.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.