Indianapolis Colts Training Camp: 5 Early Storylines to Watch
Training camp isn't the most glamorous of NFL activities; in fact, it's rather boring. After all, even preseason games have actual football being played, as unimportant as it may be.
But yearly training camp is a glorified practice, something that parents take their children to around the world every day. The majority of it is positional drills, players jogging back and forth, catching passes and practicing punts.
Nevertheless, fans rejoice when training camp begins, as it signifies something greater to come. And as tedious as it may be, training camp plays a large role in a team's makeup, whether it be the players who just made the squad, the rotation at certain positions or the chemistry between different individuals.
The anticipation for the regular season is building, and fans will be watching training camp closely. While keeping track over the next few weeks, here are five of the top storylines to note.
D'Qwell Jackson Being a Leader
One of the underrated parts of Antoine Bethea's game in Indianapolis was his leadership from the back end. Bethea had a plethora of qualities that were worth propping up, including his durability, his flexibility and his dependability, but his leadership is something that is not always held in the same light.
But regardless, make no mistake, Bethea was crucial to the defense's success. Bethea, in a sense, was the quarterback of the defense. It was apparent on tape, as Bethea would bark back and forth between cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers to get everybody in position. That pre-snap chatter may not seem like much, but it was critical for Chuck Pagano's 3-4 hybrid defense. Even as Bethea slowed down physically, his mind continued to aid the defense.
With Bethea leaving in free agency, however, a void was left that must be filled. Cory Redding and Robert Mathis are leaders, but they can't do much on-field quarterbacking from their respective spots in the formation. Jerrell Freeman will likely take on more responsibility in this area, but he has just two years of experience to rely on.
The onus could land on D'Qwell Jackson, who the Colts signed after the Cleveland Browns waived his contract. Chuck Pagano clearly has respect for Jackson's non-physical qualities, telling Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star that "he's a three-down 'backer. He brings a ton to the table that way. A great leader and great football intelligence."
If Jackson can take some of that weight off of Freeman's shoulders, it should help stabilize the defense, a much-needed effect.
Andrew Luck Making the Leap
The accepted narrative among most media members is that 2014 is the year that Andrew Luck makes "The Leap." Surrounded by the most talent that he's had in his young career (which isn't saying much, but still), Luck will realize his full potential and join the top quarterbacks in the league in 2014, or so the narrative says.
Take a look at what analysts have said this summer:
- Ron Jaworski of ESPN.com (subscription required) ranked Luck fifth among all quarterbacks: "I have zero concerns with his arm strength. Luck has a great touch and throws the ball only as hard as he needs to. With only 35 starts in the NFL, he's already an elite quarterback and a refined progression reader."
- Mike Sando of ESPN.com (subscription required) talked to 26 league insiders, who put Luck in the top tier of quarterbacks at fifth. One GM had this to say: "He can put it on his back as a younger player, where some of these other guys had good help running the ball ... They say you can win with a young QB when you have a top-10 defense and a top-10 running game. Luck hasn't had either."
- Chris Wesseling of NFL.com placed Luck a step below the elite four quarterbacks, along with Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers: "A prodigy in the pocket and the league's most successful scrambler, Luck is already taking the fourth-quarter comeback to new levels. Don't be surprised if he's rivaling Rodgers for the top spot on this list next summer."
Luck is also supposed to be a top fantasy quarterback in 2014, hinting at improved statistics.
Can Luck live up to the hype, which is as high as it's been since he was drafted? You better believe we'll be watching closely in training camp to find out if Luck is prepared to showcase his entire cupboard of talents.
Jim Irsay: Fading into the Background?
It is not the owner of an NFL franchise's job to be in the limelight. In fact, the reasons that owners generally are in the public eye remain mostly negative.
For Jim Irsay, the public eye captured everything that occurred in 2013 and kept a record of his late-March arrest and subsequent trial. Now, Irsay is trying to fade back into the background. For as much as Irsay loves attention, this is not what he wanted.
As training camp kicks off, Irsay looks to make it about football again. But, not everything is in his control. The league could release Irsay's punishment at any time, opening up a can of worms all over again. His punishment will be scrutinized, compared to players' discipline and the Colts, whom Irsay desperately wants to be hoisted as a young, promising team, will be known instead as the team with the crazy owner.
Some of that may not be in Irsay's control, but he must be aware of what is and how he can turn the focus back to football. While he can never take back his actions, there are some things he can do to keep it from taking control of training camp media sessions.
Rookies Battling for Snaps
Over the last two seasons, rookies have played a tremendous part in the Indianapolis Colts' success. The class of 2012 was especially helpful, as Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Vick Ballard all started games. In 2013, Hugh Thornton became a starting offensive lineman midway through the season, and Bjoern Werner was a high-snap rotational player.
But in 2014, we could have a season with minimal rookie playing time. The roster has grown stronger since 2012, as Ryan Grigson has built a team with his stamp on it. It seems unfathomable, but it's possible that no rookies could start in 2014, or even have a considerable snap count.
Second-round pick Jack Mewhort will compete for a starting role on the offensive line, but Thornton has an edge in experience and veteran Donald Thomas is returning from season-ending muscle tears. Rookie WR Donte Moncrief is the fourth receiver at best at the moment and will be hard-pressed to jump up the ladder this season.
Rookie linebackers Jonathan Newsome and Andrew Jackson will both be fighting for depth roles and likely won't see the field outside of injury problems.
The rookies could make a strong impression this season, but they won't be handed any jobs. Their first test? Training camp.
Grigson's Reputation in the Balance
After one season, Ryan Grigson was lauded as one of the league's top general managers. After one season and one lackluster offseason, the praise quieted. After two seasons, two lackluster offseasons and a failed marquee trade, serious questioning has begun to emerge.
Whether it was Football Outsiders' Rivers McCown fleecing Grigson in the Indianapolis chapter of the FO Almanac or ESPN's recent panelists (subscription required) ranking Grigson and the Colts' drafting among the league worst, the national media has not been kind to the third-year general manager as of late.
Already, Luck has earned the "carrying a bad team" merit badge, and none other than Grigson are seen as worthy of blame.
To some extent, the criticism is warranted, with the Colts' newest additions since 2012 largely being disappointments. Couple that with some questionable philosophy in team-building (I'm looking at you, Trent Richardson) and nothing good could come.
But, on the other hand, the team is 22-10 in the regular season over the last two years and they've won a playoff game. NFL analysts are usually so focused on results that they forget about the process. If the Colts were winning, usually that would mean good things for the general manager. But for Grigson, the examination is more complicated. Luck complicates things. Seeing what Luck can do gives us higher expectations.
And so Grigson finds himself on the edge of a blade, ready to topple one way or the other. His reputation could still be restored, but it will take a strong season by his team, not just his quarterback.