Updating Indianapolis Colts' Key Position Battles Halfway Through Training Camp
The Indianapolis Colts have now finished their first preseason game, and the competition is now certainly heating up for several positions on the depth chart.
The Buffalo Bills came to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday and defeated the Colts by a score of 44-20. Although the final score may have been rather lopsided, there was still plenty to learn from the game regarding players and the team as a whole.
Some positions, like the No. 1 quarterback, are already locked down and have been before training camp even began. Other spots on the depth chart are essentially up for grabs, and players are battling each other to prove they have earned that spot.
We will focus on the latter in this article, looking at some of the current roster battles. We got a good look at some of these guys in the first preseason game, but I've also had the opportunity to spend a few days at training camp to see even more of what's going on with these spots.
Note: All observations, unless noted otherwise, were obtained firsthand.
Mike Linebacker No. 1
The current situation for the starting "Mike" linebacker is pretty interesting. Although it felt like Pat Angerer would be the guy, he was put on the preseason PUP list due to his nagging foot injury, and now the job is up for grabs.
Kavell Conner has been a named tossed out there often. He filled in nicely for Angerer during the 2012 season, and he's looked pretty good, so far, during training camp, making plays here and there.
Sunday confirmed that, after Conner made some nice plays, including a big hit on an attempted screen play to get the keep the ball-carrier from advancing on third down and forcing a field-goal attempt. He was the starting Mike linebacker for the day against the Bills.
The Colts got Kelvin Sheppard in a trade that sent Jerry Hughes to Buffalo, much to the delight of Colts fans. He was impressing me at camp, looking pretty solid in pass coverage. However, he didn't look very comfortable on defense against the Bills and even grabbed a holding penalty late in the first half.
If Angerer gets healthy by the start of the regular season then there's a pretty good chance that he would be the starter. If he's not healthy, it certainly seems like it's a toss-up between Sheppard in Conner. There will be more time for them to prove themselves, but if we're going off of one game with limited reps, then Conner would be the starter at the moment.
Tight End No. 3
Both Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen will certainly be the top two tight ends on the roster, but who will play behind these guys?
At the moment, there are currently two options, Dominique Jones and Justice Cunningham.
Jones is a hybrid tight end/fullback who has seen time with the first, second and third teams throughout training camp. He's never been an eye-opening player, but he's done his job. He made a very nice play against the Bills on Sunday, catching a pass from Chandler Harnish in a very tight window that surprised a few people.
A lot of people have been impressed with Cunningham as a third tight end for the past couple of weeks. Kevin Bowen of Colts.com recently reported that Chuck Pagano has been speaking highly of Cunningham. The "Mr. Irrelevant" pick had a nice catch for 17 yards, but also made some very nice blocks in the running game that opened some nice lanes for the backs.
It really feels like Cunningham has the leg up on this battle. He was an impressive blocker in college, but the potential added dimension of being able to make plays in the passing game could make him a very nice option to have behind both Fleener and Allen.
Rush Linebacker No. 3
The Colts need to find guys who can get to the quarterback to improve their pass rush after sacking the opposing QB just 32 times last year.
Robert Mathis and Bjoern Werner will be taking most of the snaps at the rush linebacker position, but they will need someone to play behind these guys. Honestly, whoever plays behind them will be one of those guys who just barely makes the roster, but there are a few interesting options to consider.
Quinton Spears has jumped around the NFL in his first few seasons, starting with the Miami Dolphins before going to the Cleveland Browns and finally ending up in Indy. He didn't exactly stand out in the first preseason game, picking up one total tackle in the game.
It's been hard to miss Caesar Rayford at training camp. At 6'7'', he simply towers over almost everyone, and his physicality at camp has turned some heads.
He did even more of that on Sunday, getting pressure on the quarterback a couple of times, including an impressive sack-strip that Daxton Swanson took for a 72-yard touchdown. He also nearly blocked a punt and has become a guy to keep an eye on for the rest of the preseason.
Daniel Adongo is the last guy on the list, but he has an incredibly small chance at making the final roster. He's been sitting out of camp with an injury, but his story is a unique one. He came from the Super 15 rugby league in Kenya and is now working at becoming a possible player in the NFL. However, he's such an incredibly raw prospect, those chances are quite slim.
The leader—right now—has got to be Rayford. Anyone who is as intimidating physically as Rayford and can get to the passer and blow up a play in their first game should earn a lot of attention.
Cornerback No. 5
This may be the hardest battle to keep track of at the moment.
The Colts currently have four guys at corner who know their roles. Both Greg Toler and Vontae Davis will be the starters, Darius Butler will be the nickel corner, and Cassius Vaughn will be the No. 4 guy. Still, this team will likely need to add another guy in the event that one of these players gets hurt.
There has been little to be impressed with from the rest of the guys, but there have been a few bright spots. Josh Gordy hasn't been one of those bright spots. He hasn't been a very impressive player, and he didn't look very good filling in at safety against the Bills. It may not be fair to judge him off playing a different position, but he needs to make some plays in order to show he earns that fifth spot.
Marshay Green hasn't made too many big plays in camp, but he did nearly have an interception while covering Dominique Jones at camp on August 6, according to Kyle Rodriguez who was at practice with me on that day.
Although incredibly fast, Teddy Williams will be facing an uphill battle. He was a former track star in college, but he's still developing into a pro-level cornerback. Sheldon Price looks very nice physically with some long limbs, but he's struggled at camp and got burned on a fairly typical slant route against the Bills that went for a touchdown.
Daxton Swanson has been splitting time at corner and safety, but he's looked pretty good. He came up with the defensive touchdown, thanks to the strip-sack by Rayford on Sunday. Lastly, Allen Chapman has impressed me with his ability to make open-field tackles, even if he hasn't blown anyone away with his coverage abilities.
In the end, this battle is still very much up in the air. There are so many guys fighting for one, maybe two spots as defensive backs on the final roster, and the competition will need to continue for the next few weeks, so we can see who will be able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
It seems so simple, yet the Colts have yet to officially decide on who will return kicks for them in 2013.
The incumbent would be Cassius Vaughn, who returned a few kicks for the team in 2012. He had 10 returns all season, which was surprisingly the most for the entire team. Those 10 returns went for 209 total yards, including his longest of 40 yards.
Kerwynn Williams was an explosive player during his time at Utah State, and he has a lot of speed. His best year as a kick returner was in 2010, when he returned 53 kicks for 1,444 yards, an average of 27.25 yards per return. He could be a very elusive returner at 5'8'', hiding behind lead blockers and finding lanes to run.
I already said that Teddy Williams is probably the fastest guy on the team, but it would be better to explain just how fast he really is. Back at UTSA, Williams ran the 100-meter dash in an incredible 9.90 seconds to break the school record. I recently was able to talk with Williams in an interview, and he expressed that he would be interested in returning kicks for the team.
Deji Karim was able to become a hero in Indianapolis for his kickoff return for a touchdown in Week 17 of last season against the Houston Texans, but since he's no longer with the team, the coaching staff is going to need to find someone else.