8 Things We Learned from Indianapolis Colts' Training Camp so Far
By the time training camp comes around every summer, Indianapolis Colts fans are aching for football to be back and the demand for information skyrockets.
Readers clamor for news and notes from training camp: who's up, who's down, who's hurt and what direction the team is headed. Unfortunately, this can lead to exaggerated overreactions. What must be remembered is that training camp is a very small look at players in an environment that doesn't really represent the regular season in any fashion.
Nothing that is noted during training camp (outside of injuries) reflects certainties in the roster or players' abilities.
Then again, sports analysis is often devoid of certainties. With so much information flowing in and out of training camp, there are certain trends that can be tracked.
With that in mind, here are eight things to take away from the first week of Colts training camp.
Ryan Grigson Likes Potential
Every general manager likes players with high potential.
Not every general manager is willing to take the risk associated with raw players over players who are a bit more experienced, but also limited. Ryan Grigson has proven time and again that he's not afraid to take a flier on raw players, and the signing of Daniel Adongo is the epitome of that attitude.
Adongo is as raw as it gets, having never played a down of football or even put on pads and a helmet, coming from the Southern Kings of Super 15 Rugby.
Grigson likened Adongo to a "lump of clay," with of linebacker coach Jeff Fitzgerald describing him as a "clean canvas", according to Mike Chapell of The Indianapolis Star.
It's a great strategy for a young team trying to find talent anywhere that it can. Rather than use the final roster spot on somebody who is 99 percent sure not to make the roster, Grigson has been very active in bringing in high-potential players.
These players may not contribute right away, but they could be key contributors over the long term. It was a similar attitude that led to the Colts drafting John Boyett and Josh Chapman. However, Boyett is on the non-football injury list recovering from knee surgery in college after Chapman missed his entire rookie year with knee injuries.
Coby Fleener Really Is Going to Break out
We've talked throughout the offseason about Coby Fleener's potential to distinctly improve in his sophomore season.
The reasons why were clear: A healthy Fleener has the physical tools to succeed and Pep Hamilton's offense is tailored for a tight end of his caliber.
But despite the speculation, Fleener's improvement is ultimately going to be up to him. Through a week of training camp, he certainly looks like he's prepared to take the next step.
Pep Hamilton described it best, via Wifi.com, saying that Fleener has had the best camp he's ever seen from the second-year tight end:
He’s a lot more explosive and confident right now. He’s making plays that big-time NFL players tend to make.
Fellow tight end Dwayne Allen saw similar changes in Fleener:
He’s a guy who is hungry and way more physical. Coby understands his time was limited last year because of injury. He knows he has some doubters out there, but he also knows he can be one of the best tight ends in this league. He’s going out there this year to prove that.
Because of the increased physicality and confidence, George Bremer of The Herald Bulletin says that Fleener's been one of the most impressive players in camp. Unless Fleener is injured, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which his play would not dramatically improve in 2013.
The Colts Want to Be More Balanced
Owner Jim Irsay caught reporters' ears when he turned to the rival New England Patriots as a model for what he envisions for the Colts' near future.
“It was one of the more complete teams that there was," he said, according to The Indianapolis Star in referring to the Patriots' 2004 team that beat Indianapolis, 20-3, on its way to a second straight Super Bowl win.
"There wasn’t humongous offensive statistics and (Tom) Brady didn’t throw 50 touchdown passes, but it was such a well-balanced team in all areas. It was a tough team to get past. That’s what we’re looking for.’’
His comments came just a few days after John Breech of CBS Sports reported that Irsay had expressed "disappointment" over only winning one Super Bowl in the Manning era, citing a desire to surround Andrew Luck with a stronger run game and defense than Manning ever had in Indianapolis. Irsay would follow his comments up with a tweet last week that named a top-10 run defense and run offense as two of five keys for winning in 2013.
While the desire for excellence in all aspects of the game is a worthy one, there are definite concerns over Irsay's infatuation with running the ball. The key to winning in the NFL is the passing game, and if Luck isn't given the weapons and offensive line to create an elite passing offense, a fantastic opportunity will be lost.
Darius Heyward-Bey Has Great Natural Talent, Suspect Hands
The Colts desperately needed a second wide receiver this offseason that fit the traditional split-end role. Rather than draft one to develop, the Colts chose to sign Darrius Heyward-Bey, the former Raider known for his inconsistent hands.
Through the first few days of camp, Heyward-Bey's drop-heavy reputation caught up to him on the field, leading to at least five drops in the first few days, according to Derek Schultz of ESPN 1070. This led to a fit of anxiety among Colts fans, as it often does when it comes to reactions to training camp, that proved to be unnecessary.
Heyward-Bey went on to have a great first week in camp, getting praise from media, coaches and players alike. Fellow wide receiver Reggie Wayne was the most candid on the enigmatic receiver, according to the News-Sentinel:
I tell him every day I wish I had his body type. He can be in that elite group of big receivers, the Andre Johnsons, the Calvin Johnsons, guys like that. But he's growing, he's getting better and better each week. He can be a freak of nature, he really can be.
Unfortunately, a recent knee sprain may hinder Heyward-Bey's progress.
Josh Chapman Hasn't Missed a Beat
Colts' second-year nose tackle Josh Chapman will play his first down of NFL football on Sunday, but has already been the subject of myth-making speculation among Colts fans.
It began last season, when Chapman's return to the field was dubbed "Chapmas" by Colts fans. His potential impact on the defense after his eventual addition to the defensive line was hyped by many. It became a joke, but one that fans half-believed.
After getting his first on-field work in during OTAs, Chapman immediately began getting repetitions with the first team and has been impressing ever since. His play at camp has been stellar in the eyes of George Bremer of The Herald Bulletin, culminating in his decimating one run play by knocking four blockers completely out of the play.
The play led to even more myth-making. The newest nickname of 'Chapnado' has stuck quickly, although it's perseverance has yet to be seen.
Griff Whalen Is "Necessary"
The signing of former Stanford Cardinal wide receiver Griff Whalen with Indianapolis as an undrafted free agent last season made perfect sense.
Whalen was Andrew Luck's roommate and a trusted target on the field. Unfortunately, a foot injury in the preseason led Whalen to ending up on injured reserve and Whalen didn't contribute as a rookie.
If training camp this year is any indication, that should change in 2013.
Whalen has had a very consistent camp thus far, constantly being targeted and catching passes from all three quarterbacks on the roster. His play on the field has earned him high praise from coaches and media, most notably Chuck Pagano, as reported by Kevin Bowen of Colts.com:
He’s a very, very consistent guy, cerebral guys, doesn’t make (mental mistakes), knows every intricacy of the offense so he’s able to play fast and he’s got a great set of hands. He doesn’t drop any footballs and he makes plays so I’m happy where he’s at.
Pagano would go on to say, according to Craig Kelley of Colts.com that Whalen was making himself "necessary." At this point, it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which Whalen doesn't make the team.
The Linebacker Rotation Is Fluid
One of the deepest positions on the roster, the Colts' linebacker unit (especially inside linebacker) has been extremely fluid through the first week of camp.
Jerrell Freeman and Pat Angerer were the projected starters heading into training camp, but Angerer's continued rehabilitation from foot surgery meant that someone needed to take his place with the first-team defense.
Kavell Conner seems to be the one who's benefited the most from Angerer's absence, but other linebackers have gotten a chance as well. Kelvin Sheppard has rotated in at times, but mostly in nickel situations. Former Army lieutenant Josh McNary has seen his share of snaps as well.
Outside linebacker is a little more stable, with Robert Mathis and Erik Walden entrenched as starters. Rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner has been backing up Mathis while filling in for Walden in nickel formations.
Pat McAfee Can Still Kick Field Goals, and Now He Has a Holder
Pat McAfee has practiced kicking field goals during training camp for the last few years, but it hasn't translated to anything but a few PATs in the preseason.
When asked about it this offseason on the Dan Dakich Show, McAfee mentioned that the Colts have never had another field goal holder. McAfee holds for Adam Vinatieri during the regular season, so if he was to kick, the Colts would need somebody else to hold. However, McAfee added that Griff Whalen is a pretty good holder, making it possible for him to kick in the regular season if Whalen makes the final roster.
The Colts have been using this combination throughout training camp, and McAfee's done a good job, hitting 60-plus yard attempts fairly regularly. His famously strong leg (dubbed the #Boomstick) has been kicked extra-long field goals before, and it could be a unique weapon for Indianapolis in certain scenarios.