5 Biggest Takeaways from the Indianapolis Colts OTAs
The Indianapolis Colts' organized team activities (OTAs) began last week, giving way to more analysis and news as the 2014 offseason rolls on.
Now, it's crucial to remember to walk the fine line of overanalysis during these summer practices. While we want to keep up on the latest team news and continue to have all of the best information available, we must also keep perspective in mind.
These are just summer practices, and there will likely be many, many differences between now and September. With that in mind, what are the most important facts to come out of OTAs and rookie minicamps thus far?
Jack Mewhort Won't Start Right Away
As we discussed Tuesday, rookie offensive lineman Jack Mewhort is currently slotted behind left guard Lance Louis. Louis isn't even projected to be the starter, with Donald Thomas still on the mend.
There's nothing wrong with Mewhort easing in to the league. In fact, it's probably better this way. But there will be a lot of scrutiny on Mewhort because of the disappointment of the 2013 draft and the head-scratching associated with the Mewhort pick at No. 59. If Mewhort doesn't contribute early, there will be some grumbling among fans, especially if the defense struggles.
Long-term, again, it's probably better if Mewhort eases his way in. But that's not going to help the sting if he is riding the bench for the majority of 2014 while other rookies contribute right away.
An Offensive Shift?
Pep Hamilton wasn't creating any new philosophies when he told reporters that the Colts were going to be a "score-first" team in 2014, per Mike Wells of ESPN.com. Hamilton, responding to the idea that the Colts had become to heavily "run-first" in 2013, is going to face the line often in his second season as offensive coordinator.
But fortunately for Andrew Luck and the Colts, he may be a little more open to making adjustments this time around.
The Colts will still emphasize the running game, of that there is no doubt. But the team drafted WR Donte Moncrief and signed veteran receiver Hakeem Nicks in the offseason. Couple that with the adjustments we saw Hamilton make toward the end of last season, allowing Luck to air it out more as the season progressed, and you have some encouraging signs going into 2014.
Trent Richardson Leading the "Pack"
The 2014 race for the starting running back spot was supposed to be wide open. With Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard returning from injury and Trent Richardson struggling immensely during his sophomore campaign, the offseason battle for the spot was going to be one of the closest position struggles of the offseason.
Thus far, however, it's been all Richardson.
With Bradshaw and Ballard still recovering, Richardson wore a red jersey as an "untouchable" player during camp, according to ESPN.com's Mike Wells. For now, the team will focus on keeping the three backs healthy, or getting them to that point at all.
But Richardson remains the one that the Colts are banking on for their future. While all three backs will get carries, Chuck Pagano did tell reporters at the owners meetings in March that they want one "workhorse back." That term in itself seems to point at Richardson, who has emphasized this offseason as a tremendous boost to his confidence and performance going forward.
Bjoern Werner Will Get the First Crack at Replacing Mathis
In a development that is no surprise to any fan, 2013 first-round draft pick Bjoern Werner will get the "first crack" at replacing Robert Mathis during his four-game suspension, according to ESPN.com's Mike Wells.
Again, it's no surprise. The other outside linebackers on the roster include Cam Johnson, Daniel Adongo, Andy Studebaker and rookie Jonathan Newsome. According to Football Outsiders, those four had a combined 166 defensive snaps last season. Werner had 306 defensive snaps last year.
This, after all, is what Werner was drafted for: To eventually replace Mathis and/or Erik Walden. This is his opportunity to reward Ryan Grigson's faith in him. If he cannot do the job adequately, the Colts defense will suffer tremendously. After a rough rookie season, one can only hope that Werner can take the next step forward in 2014.
Can Andrew Luck Take the Next Step?
Before Reggie Wayne's injury last season, Andrew Luck was playing like a top-five quarterback in the NFL. Besides Peyton Manning, nobody was playing at a higher level in the AFC, the Colts were 6-2 and all was well.
But then Wayne went down, and we began to see the inconsistencies creep back up into Luck's game. The high throws, hurried reads and poor decision-making all worked their way back into the second half of the Colts' season. Certainly the lack of talent around him did not help Luck, as he threw to T.Y. Hilton and not much else.
Going into the 2014 campaign, the Colts did plenty to ensure that lack of weapons would not occur again, bringing in Nicks and Moncrief as well as Mewhort and Louis on the offensive line. There was no particularly "big" move, no proven stars (depending on how you view Hakeem Nicks), but multiple players brought in with potential to contribute.
The Colts will go as Luck goes, and the test for 2014 will depend, once again, on his development. The Colts roster simply isn't good enough to contend for the playoffs, much less a Super Bowl, without stellar quarterback play.
Fortunately, the quarterback they have is more than capable of stellar play. The only question is how often will we see it?