ANDERSON, Ind. — This wasn’t the same, old training camp for the Indianapolis Colts.
It was one week shorter, for starters, and without question more intense. The two-time defending AFC South Division champions got after it a bit more than normal in two weeks of workouts at Anderson University.
Perhaps this had something to do with head coach Chuck Pagano realizing his team needed to be more physical after back-to-back playoff embarrassments against the New England Patriots. Oh, and Pagano is entering a contract year, so his future could depend upon 2015 and expectations couldn’t be higher.
Spirited practices included a series of offensive versus defensive competitions to fire up players on both sides. One second, the offensive guys were hollering. The next, the defenders were woofing. It was one-on-one blocking and rushing, one-on-one pass receiving and covering. Two men enter, one man leaves triumphant. One side celebrates like somebody just won the Super Bowl.
Players pushing it to the edge and beyond also explain several skirmishes, including two fights. While fisticuffs seem ridiculous for men in pads wearing helmets, it showed just how hard the Colts were pushing it — these scraps have rarely happened in recent camps.
“At the end of the day, football is a competition,” quarterback Andrew Luck said Friday morning. “It’s training yourself to win. Any time you’re counting a winner or loser, it’s another training experience.”
The Colts will have a private walk-through practice Saturday morning and then break camp, stop briefly in Indianapolis and hop a flight for Philadelphia to open the preseason schedule with a 1 p.m. Sunday kickoff against the Eagles.
“I think guys wanted to make each other better,” Luck said. “I think we did a solid job of (managing) that fine line between competitive and combative, which coach Pep (Hamilton) talks a lot about, and coach Clyde (Christensen) talks about. I don’t think guys crossed it, per se, and they kept it strong and competitive.”
He liked ending practices with the one-on-one competitions.
What else stood out? Speed. Especially when watching the Colts’ wide receivers.
Rookies Phillip Dorsett and Duron Carter opened eyes the first week. Carter was slowed by a groin injury but returned later in the second week. The son of NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter caught TD passes off slant routes on back-to-back plays Wednesday.
Johnson, running back Frank Gore and outside linebacker Trent Cole — the “30-somethings” — didn’t give any indication that they’re slowing down and at the end of their careers. Johnson seemed to glide all over the field. Gore was irritated whenever asked to take a snap off. Cole’s wide-eyed look reminded teammates why he’s called “The Animal.”
Cornerback Jalil Brown, one of many on the bubble for a roster spot, had a team-high five interceptions.
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis (Achilles) and offensive left guard Donald Thomas (quad) spent the entire time on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. They did their share of individual work on the side, but were never cleared to practice. Pagano has said the duo are “week-to-week.” Owner Jim Irsay says Mathis isn’t expected to be ready to play until late September or early October.
Camp was shortened one week so the Colts could return home for Wednesday and Thursday joint practices with the Chicago Bears at the team’s West 56th Street complex.
Pagano liked what he saw.
“This has been a great camp,” he said. “I think the guys worked extremely hard. It’s been demanding both mentally and physically on everybody but guys have responded and done everything we’ve asked.”
Perhaps the best news is the Colts didn’t suffer any serious injuries to starters.
As Luck closed his chat with reporters, he smiled and said, “See you next year.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.