The 6 Biggest Takeaways from Colts Rookie Minicamp
Now that the NFL draft is over, the league slows down until training camps start in late-August.
As a football fan, the time between the draft and training camp can be excruciating with most news involving off-the-field trouble, such as Titus Young's three-peat arrest last week.
As writers, most of the summer will be spent reviewing film, crunching stats and doing more long-form analysis. It's a great time to buckle down and study larger trends without worrying about next week's game.
However, there are a few opportunities for news and notes, as inconsequential as they may be at this point in the offseason. One of those times comes in rookie minicamps, where rookie draft picks, undrafted free-agent signings and tryout invites gather at team complexes to give coaches their first impression of the rookie talent.
The Colts' rookie minicamp took place from Friday through Sunday, May 10-12. Although the drills among other rookies without pads aren't the most informative sessions, they still can give us an early glimpse into what is happening in Indianapolis.
Josh Chapman Expected to Work with First Unit
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The Colts' fifth-round draft choice from 2012, Josh Chapman, never saw the field last season, recuperating from the torn ACL that he played through during Alabama's championship season in 2011.
The 320-pound nose tackle slipped to the fifth round precisely because of that injury and fans had high hopes for him going into the season.
Ryan Grigson and the Colts decided to play it safe with Chapman, keeping him sidelined all year despite the Colts' utter lack of depth on the defensive line.
Now it seems like Chapman is making very good progress as he trains for 2013:
FWIW #Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said NT Josh Chapman has been running with the first unit during OTAs.
— Kevin Bowen (@KBowenColts) May 11, 2013
If Chapman can get quality snaps this year at nose tackle, it would be a great sign for the future of Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defense. Chapman projected as a prototypical zero-tech nose tackle for a 3-4 and could be the long term answer at the position, but the first step is getting him on the field.
Hugh Thornton Sticking to Right Guard
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Although Hugh Thornton's particular draft position was a bit of a head scratcher, it was one of the league's worst-kept secret that the Colts desperately needed offensive line help after an atrocious year in 2012.
Andrew Luck was pressured on 268 dropbacks last season, easily the top mark in the league (PFF subscription required).
With the obvious faults in the line there combined with the coaches' desire to become more of a power-running team, turnover on the line was necessary, especially at guard.
The Colts brought in Donald Thomas in the offseason, specifically stating after his signing that he would be the starter at left guard. With that done, replacing Mike McGlynn at right guard was the next step.
It was speculated that would be Thornton's role after drafting him so high and now it seems that that notion has been confirmed:
Hugh Thornton worked exclusively at RG throughout camp, and Pagano said it's best to keep rookies in one spot and let them grow. #Colts— George Bremer (@gmbremer) May 12, 2013
Obviously, the Colts see him as a long-term contributor at right guard, even if he doesn't end up taking the starting job right away in training camp. To be honest, he likely has the best shot of any of the rookies to start 16 games this season.
One UDFA Corner Is Impressing, One Is Not
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I discussed five UDFAs that had a shot at making the roster last week, including two cornerbacks in Sheldon Price and Nigel Malone.
Well, let's call it going one-for-two after three days of rookie minicamp.
Price was arguably the most mentioned UDFA by media members throughout the weekend, playing well enough to be praised each day by the media on hand:
@philthysmouth Thought Sheldon Price, the CB from UCLA performed really well today, still early though. Should have a better idea after Sun.— Kevin Bowen (@KBowenColts) May 10, 2013
UCLA CB Sheldon Price also made a couple of solid plays in coverage. #Colts— George Bremer (@gmbremer) May 11, 2013
UCLA CB Sheldon Price did a nice job in coverage again, but Sam Houston St. CB Daxton Swanson made the day's best defensive play. #Colts— George Bremer (@gmbremer) May 12, 2013
Meanwhile, Malone did not seem to impress anybody, as he was cut Sunday and replaced by former Kansas State teammate, cornerback Allen "Bubba" Chapman.
Chapman was at camp on a tryout basis and played well enough to earn a spot going forward. Corner will continue to be a contested position, as the depth after Darius Butler is weak.
The other name to watch is Sam Houston State corner Daxton Swanson:
Daxton Swanson great break on the ball and nearly had an end zone interception. Got the attention of Pagano.— Tom James (@TribStarTJames) May 12, 2013
Adam Vinatieri's Job Looks Safe
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When the news broke that the Colts were bringing two kickers into minicamp, there was some speculation that an aging Adam Vinatieri could have a little less job security than expected.
While the possibility was there, it always seemed more likely to me that Brandon McManus and Michael Josifovski were simply camp legs that would keep Vinatieri's leg fresh during training camp and the preseason.
Based on the reports out of minicamp, it looks like the Colts are doing exactly that:
The two rookie kickers were 3-for-8 in FG attempts Sunday morning.— Tom James (@TribStarTJames) May 12, 2013
One of the two (I'd put more confidence in McManus) will likely make the 90-man training camp roster, but I'll be shocked if the Colts' place kicker is anyone but Vinatieri once the regular season kicks off.
FS John Boyett Still Sidelined with Injury
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One of the negatives about the Colts' sixth-round draft pick, free safety John Boyett out of Oregon, was his injury history.
Boyett tore both his patellar tendons early in 2012 and has yet to get back to full strength. The Colts hope that he can make a full recovery by the time the season starts, but it's not a guarantee by any means.
So far, much like Josh Chapman last season, the Colts are not going to rush Boyett back onto the field before he's ready:
Pagano said #Colts are holding S John Boyett back. Will limit him in rookie camp. Hope to have him for OTAs.— George Bremer (@gmbremer) May 10, 2013
If healthy, Boyett is expected to learn behind Antoine Bethea for a year before possibly having a starting job in 2014, but that would be a best-case scenario, and one in which he would need to hit the field before anything else could happen.
"Mr. Irrelevant" TE Justice Cunningham Impressing
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Cunningham was lauded as a blocker by scouts, but his receiving skills were largely disregarded because of his lack of speed—not surprising considering his 260-pound frame.
While Cunningham is never going to be an elite receiving threat or even much of a threat at all, an ability to serve as a passable option in the passing game, combined with his blocking talent, would be a huge asset in his battle to beat out Weslye Saunders and Dominique Jones for the third tight end spot.
It seems he may have flashed that ability this past weekend:
TE justice Cunningham showing he has some pretty good hands as a receiver. Just hauled in a long pass from Belton on crossing pattern.— Tom James (@TribStarTJames) May 10, 2013
Mr. Irrelevant Justice Cunningham has had a couple of nice catches today. Showing more than rep as blocking TE. #Colts— George Bremer (@gmbremer) May 10, 2013
Justice Cunningham ends practice with a 20-yard TD catch from Tanner Marsh. Entire offense rushed end zone to celebrate. #Colts— George Bremer (@gmbremer) May 12, 2013
If Cunningham can continue his rise into training camp, he could be a real upgrade over Saunders and Jones, allowing the Colts an easier transition in case of injury to either Dwayne Allen or Coby Fleener.