Ranking the Indianapolis Colts' Top 5 Sleepers to Watch in Camp
As training camp approaches, Indianapolis Colts fans eagerly await the dawning of a new season. Training camp represents a fresh slate, a completely new season for players, coaches and teams to make their mark upon. Each season is different and each team has new dynamics, making the new year's training camp an anticipated time each summer.
The camp offers many enticing reasons to attend, but the draw, as it is to any NFL event, is the players. Fans want to see the players, from the old vets to the new rookies, the starters taking snaps against one another and the bottom-dwellers competing for practice squad spots.
This season, there's a legitimate reason to watch just about any player on the Colts roster. Today, however, we look at five of the most intriguing players that I haven't written much about this offseason. Reasons to watch the player will vary, but one thing is certain: You'll want to keep your eyes peeled come late July.
RB Trent Richardson
Let's not confuse anything here: Trent Richardson was bad last year. You don't average 2.9 yards per carry on nearly 160 carries without having a poor season. There are plenty of reasons why Richardson's season was so subpar, including offensive line play, play-calling and moving cities early in the season.
But another completely viable reason was Richardson's own deficiencies leading to missed opportunities. The former Alabama standout struggled to accurately diagnose plays as they occurred and didn't utilize his linemen in space the way that other backs, like Donald Brown, did.
On the other hand, Richardson's natural physical talent was clearly evident. Richardson's 31 broken tackles were clear evidence of that, as his strength, balance and agility were on display when defenders reached the backfield quickly (a common occurrence on the 2013 Colts).
Richardson has improvements to make, namely in his vision, conceptual understanding of blocks and explosion through seams, but the talent is there. If he can put it together, he can still be a productive back for Indianapolis.
I'm of the opinion that he'll never be valuable enough to merit the original trade, but that doesn't mean he can't produce. The most glaring error made in Richardson analysis is assuming that he currently is the player that he always will be.
I don't think Richardson will always be a 2.9 YPC running back, or that he should be cut. There's a middle ground here where Richardson had a very poor 2013, but can still grow and improve as a player.
Training camp will be our first look at the third-year back with a full offseason of preparation under offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. All Colts fans are hoping that he takes a leap with the extra time in the system, but it's also critical for the offense if Hamilton and Chuck Pagano want to feature a power-running game.
WR Tony Washington
Former Appalachian State wide receiver Tony Washington has been discussed quite a bit since LaVon Brazill's suspension was announced. I recently named him one of my dark horses to make the final roster, one big reason why I suggest watching him in training camp.
Tracking training camp battles, even ones for spots at the bottom of the roster, is a key part of training camp visitation, and Washington could upset Griff Whalen or Da'Rick Rogers for the fifth or sixth spot if they're not careful. With Pep Hamilton's second season forthcoming, how many receivers the Colts keep, and who they are, could speak volumes toward what the Colts' plans are for 2014.
But even if you're not interested in the bottom-dwelling battle, Washington is simply a fun player to watch.
At Appalachian State, Washington caught 64 passes for 939 yards, an average of over 78 yards per game. A quick, slippery receiver, Washington accentuates his natural talent by running sound routes to consistently gain separation.
According to Tony Pauline of Draft Insider, Washington "makes the difficult catch in a crowd, nicely adjusts to errant throws, and displays a nice feel for the position." With Washington also returning kicks and punts in training camp, he should be a fun prospect to follow if he can get into the running for a roster spot.
OG Lance Louis
One of the unheralded candidates for a rotational, or potentially starting, position on the Colts interior line, former Chicago guard Lance Louis has more going for him than most assume.
The Colts interior line is a mess, first of all. Most of the assumed starters are extremely young, with Hugh Thornton, Khaled Holmes and Jack Mewhort all having less than a season's worth of experience.
Injuries and poor play plagued Thornton's development during his rookie season, and Holmes never made it on to the field for an extensive stint. Mewhort was drafted in the second round this offseason and may have a bit of a learning curve.
Other candidates include Joe Reitz, some undrafted free agents and Donald Thomas, a former rotational player coming off of a season-ending injury.
Louis is also coming off of an injury, but has shown an ability to produce quality starts in the past. He struggled in 2011 when asked to play right tackle in Chicago, finishing the season with a negative-29.5 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required). But when moved to right guard in 2012, he finished with a negative-0.7 grade over 11 starts before a season-ending knee injury. That's nothing to be excited about, but it's passable.
Ben Gundy of Colts Authority put together an excellent review of Louis' 2012 season and found that he compared quite favorably to the current Colts:
All that said, if Louis is fully healed and can play like he did in 2012, he absolutely deserves to start and will absolutely be an upgrade over Thornton, who could use some time as the sixth lineman to learn the ins and outs of the NFL. If Louis reaches – or even approaches – the level he showed in the four games I charted, he’ll be the Colts’ best pass-blocking interior lineman and one of their best run blockers. Thornton, McGlynn and Linkenbach didn’t set a high bar last year, and Louis is by no means a Pro Bowler, but progress is progress.
Louis may or may not earn a starting spot, or even a roster spot. But, if healthy, he'll be an interesting measuring stick for the Colts' young interior linemen.
OLB Andy Studebaker
Amidst the discussion on how the Colts can replace Robert Mathis lies an overlooked linebacker, former Wheaton defensive end Andy Studebaker.
Bjoern Werner, rookie Jonathan Newsome and even Daniel Adongo have had their names dropped often, but Studebaker, who was on the roster last season, has gotten largely overlooked. That's not a surprise though, as Studebaker finished the season with just seven tackles. The 28-year-old linebacker didn't sign with Indianapolis until Oct. 9, 2013, playing in 11 regular-season games and both playoff games.
While Studebaker was primarily a special teams player, he did play 65 defensive snaps, finishing with a positive-2.9 grade from PFF, including a a positive-1.7 pass-rush grade. He had the smallest sample size with just 22 pass-rush snaps, but Studebaker had the highest pass-rushing productivity on the team with a sack, two hits and a hurry.
Note: Studebaker's sack was one uncredited by the NFL during the Colts' win over the Denver Broncos in Week 7. Studebaker and Fili Moala were both credited with the sack by PFF, as they both should have been.
Studebaker's talent doesn't touch that of Werner, Newsome or Adongo, in terms of potential anyway. But his work with the team last season will give him an edge to make the team again, especially if the young guns don't develop as hoped.
Watch him in training camp, especially his pass rush. If he's consistently getting into the backfield, the Colts will have no choice but to keep him.
WR Da'Rick Rogers
While LaVon Brazill was getting into more trouble, Da'Rick Rogers has had himself a quiet offseason.
For a supremely talented athlete with a checkered past off the field, no news is good news.
In fact, the only peep that's been heard out of Rogers has been directly from the Colts through their website, and it sounds like he's all-in. Among the few pieces referencing Rogers is a quote about the Colts' locker room's culture and a note about an impressive play during minicamp.
But the best one? A note about Rogers' weight gain this offseason. According to Colts.com's Kevin Bowen, Rogers has gained seven pounds this summer, getting up to 215 pounds in an effort to be more "toned" while also trying to improve his route-running.
Route-running and discipline are the biggest things that have held Rogers back during his career, so for him to be addressing that over the offseason is good news indeed. With a ceiling as high as his, Rogers could be a long-term starter for Indianapolis if he develops well. With Wayne, Hilton and Nicks in town next season, Rogers will have a situational role at best.
But watch for him in training camp. If he's developed significantly and continues to get experience, he could join Hilton and rookie Donte Moncrief as the weapons of the future for Andrew Luck.