The Most Intriguing Rookie Storylines at the Indianapolis Colts' OTAs
The Indianapolis Colts offseason is now underway with the rookie minicamp and organized team activities (OTAs) closing out the month.
It's a big moment for the rookies, who have been going through glorified walkthroughs at minicamp. These rookies now will face veteran talent, and will each have their own embarrassing moments as they realize the full speed of the NFL.
But the rough moments will pay off in the end, as Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen explains:
Remember, this is a gradual process for rookies as they make the transition to the NFL. And they will have tough days versus the veterans during OTA practices when matched up against established talent.
However, these OTA sessions allow rookies to get a feel for the pace of practice plus the speed, demands and accountability required to produce as a pro.
That’s a positive.
So what will we be watching with a keen eye during these OTA sessions? That's what we look at in today's rookie spotlight.
Can Jack Mewhort Start Immediately?
The Colts, who have spent more early draft picks on offensive line than any team in the league over the last eight years, per Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, need Jack Mewhort to pan out.
This isn't just about an interior offensive line that has been among the league's worst for the last two years. It's not just about the 2014 draft being deep with talent and Mewhort's respective value in said draft.
This is about Ryan Grigson's reputation as a general manager. The Colts' past two offseasons have been very mediocre, with the Colts' draft choices after the third round in 2012 largely disappointing. Mewhort represents a potential boost to Grigson's reputation after those ho-hum offseasons, a chance to invigorate the offensive line and put Andrew Luck in the best position to succeed.
But in order to do that in 2014, Mewhort first needs to win a starting spot, which will likely involve beating out Hugh Thornton for a starting guard spot. Team OTAs will be the first time the offensive line competitions begin, and for the 2014 second-round pick, first impressions will be crucial. Thornton, and every other serious offensive line competitor, has NFL experience that Mewhort does not.
In order to top that, Mewhort will need to prove himself 10 times over.
Is Jonathan Newsome Going to Help Fill the Void?
The four-game suspension of OLB Robert Mathis leaves a void. As much as the Colts preach "Next Man Up," there is no man quite like Mathis on the Colts roster. He's easily the most dynamic, and productive, pass-rusher on a team with few options.
In the 2014 draft, the Colts attempted to combat that lack of options by drafting Jonathan Newsome in the fifth round. Newsome is an athletic edge-rusher with a similar stature and skill set to a young Mathis, and may get a few early-season reps with the All-Pro on the sideline.
But is Newsome ready for that? Even Mathis, who is a special case, didn't play much defensively during his rookie season, racking up just 3.5 sacks. Only 12 players ever drafted in the fifth round or later have picked up more sacks in their rookie season, since sacks were officially recorded.
If Newsome can't be a real contributor as a rookie, it's not the end of the world. Late-round prospects aren't expected to be. But the Colts need players to step up in Mathis' absence, and Newsome doing so would be an indescribable boost.
How Much Refinement Does Donte Moncrief Need?
There shouldn't be any confusion here: Donte Moncrief is a long-term project.
The Colts don't need another receiver like him for 2014. They already have starting-caliber receivers in Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks and T.Y. Hilton. They already have big, fast developmental receivers in Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill.
No, this pick wasn't about 2014. It was about the future, and that's a good thing. Really, it fits the 20-year-old receiver best, as he still needs some development in his route running and consistency.
But how much development does he need? That will be the question to ask throughout the offseason workouts. If he can show up early and often during the offseason, it will be a good sign for the Colts' long-term stability.
Moncrief is by no means a sure thing, but his ceiling is as high as any of the Colts receivers.
Which Cornerback Steps Up?
Among the depth chart battles that will be taking place all offseason sits cornerback, where NFL journeymen and undrafted free agents will battle for the fifth spot on the roster.
The Colts signed multiple cornerbacks after the draft was over in May, including Qua Cox, Loucheiz Purifoy, Keon Lyn and Kameron Jackson. Only Purifoy has a notable pedigree, starting at Florida for 19 games over the last two years.
Needing significant upgrades at the position, the Colts are hoping that at least one of the corners flashes during OTAs so the team has a starting point to jump from during training camp. While they need a fifth corner for depth and special teams production, they also need long-term potential to upgrade spots further up the depth chart.
Will a Hole at Safety Haunt the Colts?
During the 2012 offseason, the Colts brought in Tom Zbikowski. During the 2013 offseason, the Colts brought in LaRon Landry. During the 2014 offseason, the Colts largely left the safety position untouched, despite losing fan-favorite Antoine Bethea to the San Francisco 49ers in free agency.
The only rookie brought in is undrafted free agent Dewey McDonald, a former starter at California-Pennsylvania. McDonald can do some good things, he's a hard-hitting safety with prototypical size at 6'0", 220 pounds. But he's also an undrafted free agent for a reason.
The other safeties on the roster include Sergio Brown and Delano Howell. Brown is a special teams ace that now wants a shot at a contributing spot on the defense. Howell is the favorite to win the starting job, having helped the Colts upset the 49ers in 2013. But Howell isn't an ideal starter, and Brown's most memorable defensive snap was allowing Cecil Shorts to score a game-winning touchdown in 2012.
If McDonald or one of the current safeties make a dramatic leap in 2014, Grigson may be saved, but the inaction at the position is currently one of the biggest holes in the 2014 offseason.