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NFL: AUG 16 Indianapolis Colts Training Camp

Source: Icon Sportswire / Getty


Back at the start of training camp, I posed 53 questions on the Colts heading into life at Grand Park.

Now that we have completed the 13 practices of camp, with 2 joint sessions and 2 preseason games, let’s answer the questions (as best we can):

1. How will the quarterback reps be divided up? The Colts were very willing to give Anthony Richardson plenty of starting reps in training camp. And following the 10th practice day + 1st preseason game, Shane Steichen said it was time to end the quarterback competition. Steichen named Richardson the starting QB for 2023 on August 15th. To that point, Richardson had about 100 starting reps in camp with Gardner Minshew having around 75.

2. When will Shaquille Leonard return to practice, game action? Wow, this has to be up there as one of the biggest positives exiting Grand Park. From Day 1 of training camp, Shaquille Leonard was working, and working a lot. He participated in every single practice at Grand Park until he entered concussion protocol following the first joint practice with the Bears. Leonard practiced in 12 of 13 sessions, and played in the first preseason game.

3. Will Jonathan Taylor receive a new contract extension this summer? Um, no. Talk about a statement from the Colts in not giving Taylor a contract extension in camp, with no sign of one coming anytime soon either. How much is this health driven? How much of this is taking a (new) stance in not wanting to pay a running back major money? So many questions have been added, and remained, since camp started, and now ended.

4. How high is the urgency to sign a veteran cornerback? Not much. And this is how the Colts operated in the spring, too, despite the trade of Stephon Gilmore, departure of Brandon Facyson and the suspension of Isaiah Rodgers. The Colts have foregone making a notable veteran move at cornerback. So they will play some youth in Dallis Flowers and Darrell Baker Jr. early, with a trio of rookie corners hoping to enter the mix.

5. Who wins the right guard job? The only possible offensive line spot competition this camp never matriculated. Will Fries was the starter at right guard in every single rep until he got banged up in the final week of camp. Still, when Fries is healthy, he looks to be the starter at right guard. Is former 7th round pick Arlington Hambright the next man up at RG?

6. How much playing time for Anthony Richardson this preseason? Again, the Colts were/have been very willing to give Anthony Richardson plenty of first-team work before he ‘won’ the starting job on August 15th. Richardson played 29 snaps across 3 series in the preseason opener, before Shane Steichen named him the starter some 48 hours after that. Richardson did not play in the second preseason game though.

7. Is a second-year jump in store for Bernhard Raimann? A true answer on this remains to be seen. Raimann seemed to have a very solid camp, as he took every single starting rep at left tackle. And he was hardly noticed, which is a good thing for the bulkier Raimann.

8. Which rookie will play the most in 2023? In the immediacy following the draft, the clear choice for this answer was CB-JuJu Brents. But recovery from a wrist surgery in the spring, plus a hamstring injury has stunted that answer. Anthony Richardson is the clear answer, with Josh Downs and possibly Evan Hull probably next on that list. If you were picking a cornnerback draft pick to play early, I’d go with Jaylon Jones before committing to Brents or Darius Rush

9. When will Jonathan Taylor return to action? We are still waiting for that answer. Taylor missed all 13 camp practices and both preseason games so far, as he remains on the physically unable to perform list. Every single Colts player practiced at least twice in camp, but Taylor didn’t get on the practice field one time.

10. Is Kwity Paye ready for a double-digit sack season? It wasn’t the most eye-popping camp from Paye. Health is the main thing Paye points to for this third NFL season. He’s shown some promise, but he did miss 5 games last season. A strong season from Paye should lead to the Colts picking up his 5th year rookie option, and keep that hope alive he can finally end the decade-long search for the next lead pass rusher in Indy.

11. How will the Colts handle the 3rd down running back role? Heavy attention to this specific offensive piece was understandably moved to the back burner given the Jonathan Taylor drama. In years past, this role was obvious. It was one occupied by Nyheim Hines. In 2023 though, Zack Moss seems to be too similar to Jonathan Taylor for a role centered around pass-catching. Rookie Evan Hull and Deon Jackson are the two most popular names vying for more of that pass catching plan.

12. How healthy is Rigoberto Sanchez? One of the cooler moments of camp came a few practices in when Rigoberto Sanchez boomed his first punt in front of teammates some 70 yards. Sanchez admitted he got emotional in that moment as he took a major step in fully returning from tearing his Achilles last August. Sanchez looked like his normal self in camp.

13. Is Samson Ebukam ready for a jump in playing time? One of the more under the radar storylines from camp was Samson Ebukam missing about a week of time due to a hamstring injury. Ebukam has practiced since, but his impact has been pretty quiet. While Ebukam has started 40 games over the last three years, the Colts are ready to increase his playing time even more, thinking they can get even more out of him in a 3-down role. The Colts did something similar with Denico Autry in 2018 and it worked out very well for them.

14. How physical will the Colts go in camp? This question has resorted to pretty non-existent compared to older days in the NFL. No matter the team, you just don’t see live tackling any more in an NFL training camp.

15. Is Josh Downs the new name at the slot receiver? The Colts believe Josh Downs is an ideal complement for the big bodies they have in their wide receiver room. Downs tore up the ACC as a slot receiver over the last two seasons. On paper, that’s the definite fit for Downs here at the professional level. As camp reached its final stages, the Colts started to give Downs more and more chances to win that slot starting job and he looks ready to go.

16. When will Michael Pittman return to action? The lingering hip issue which sidleined Pittman for the spring offseason program did not hinder his participation in camp. Pittman was out there for every single day of camp.

17. Is there more coming for Mo Alie-Cox? It was a quiet camp for Alie-Cox, with an ankle injury sidelining him for more than a week, too. All of a sudden, Alie-Cox is the longest tenured Colts skill player. But his security on the roster isn’t some slam dunk. Still, Alie-Cox has proven to be an adequate blocker, so he serves value at a spot the Colts struggled a bit last season.

18. Is there an undrafted free agent to make the team on offense? Exiting camp, it’s hard to peg a ‘favorite’ out of the UDFA group to make the team. Emil Ekiyor Jr. at guard? Honestly, I can’t really peg anyone else as having a legit shot. It’s probably Ekiyor, but that’s no slam dunk as he did miss a couple of camp practices, and Arlington Hambright has emerged as a veteran depth piece.

19. How beneficial will two joint practice sessions be? A wrinkle to Shane Steichen’s first training camp as head coach of the Colts will be holding three joint practice sessions, with two different teams. For many coaches, these practice days bring more actual value than the preseason contests. Clearly, Steichen found the two sessions with the Bears beneficial, as it led to him not playing 20 of his 22 starters in their subsequent preseason game with Chicago.

20. Who makes up the third-down pass rush package? One would think this has 3 definite names among a 4-man rushing group. Those 3 would be DeForest Buckner, Kwity Paye and Sampson Ebukam. But the 4th name leads to some debate. Tyquan Lewis? Dayo Odeyingbo? Is Grover Stewart serious about having a 3-down role and not coming off the field? We didn’t get a clear answer to this in camp.

21. Who will round out the crowded tight end position? This position battle, one Chris Ballard mentioned at the start of camp, certainly lived up to the attention. And availability was a big issue for the top of that group, although Kylen Granson was healthy and participating in every single practice. The same thing could not be said for the likes of Mo Alie-Cox, Jelani Woods, Will Mallory and Drew Ogletree.

22. How different will a Shane Steichen training camp be? Shorter practices. More tempo. Those were the two things we saw most consistently throughout the Colts’ 13-camp stay at Grand Park.

23. How will Alec Pierce’s game develop in Year Two? Fine-tuning how Pierce comes out of breaks and nailing down a more complete route tree are areas he is looking to improve in Year Two. Pierce showed as a rookie he can be a big play guy at this level, but there’s still room to grow to become a more complete wideout. Pierce had some impressive moments in camp, but did have a big drop in the preseason opener. The starting job going to Anthony Richardson is huge for a deep threat like Pierce.

24. Are we going to see anyone push the ‘in-pencil’ starting offensive line? Nope. The Colts opted for in-house continuity over actual competition along the offensive line this camp. That meant these quintet starting together every single day, until an injury finally shuffled things up two weeks into camp: LT-Bernhard Raimann, LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Ryan Kelly, RG-Will Fries, RT-Braden Smith.

25. Will Nick Cross push for playing time? For a second straight year, Nick Cross benefitted from an injury at safety early in camp. This time it was Julian Blackmon missing a chunk of camp due to a hamstring injury. It still looks like Cross is outside looking in for a starting safety job with Blackmon returning and Rodney Thomas II as the first-team free safety. But he made a strong impression at Grand Park, while Blackmon was watching a good amount.

26. How will the cornerback reps play out? With rookie draft picks JuJu Brents (2nd round) and Darius Rush (5th round) struggling to get on the field early in camp, that kept the starting competition at cornerback pretty quiet. A trio of Kenny Moore, Dallis Flowers and Darrell Baker Jr. were the nickel personnel grouping throughout camp. An ankle injury for Moore in the middle of camp brought Tony Brown into nickel reps. Brents and Rush missed a lot of valuable opportunities this offseason. Flowers and Baker Jr. have really, really helped themselves this offseason.

27. Is this it for Mike Strachan? Any year 3 for a former Day 3 draft picks brings a bit of a ‘now or never’ mindset. Training camp for Strachan once again brought some impressive 1-on-1 highlights from No. 17 high-pointing jump balls and coming down with him. Still though, the games have been a different story as Strachan has 5 total catches in 193 career offensive snaps. And Strachan has yet to carve out any sort of special teams presence, which hurts his roster case cause.

28. Over under 1.5 rookie starters at cornerback? We said “probably under” back in the spring. Exiting camp, it’s “definitely under.” That’s what happens when your rookie draft picks at cornerback just can’t get on the field. And that was the case for JuJu Brents and Darius Rush. Again, 7th round pick Jaylon Jones has been the most impressive of these 3 drafted corners.

29. How will Julian Blackmon react to a position change in a contract year? While Blackmon got ample strong safety work in the spring, a hamstring injury kept him on the sideline for a big part of camp. it’s been quite the 3 years for Julian Blackmon in the NFL. He defied torn ACL odds in starting 14 games during his COVID rookie season. He then tore his Achilles nearing the mid-way point of his second season. And now is on his third different position as he plays in a contract year. Is Blackmon at strong safety a marriage that works for a second contract in Indy?

30. Will Michael Pittman Jr. receive a new contract extension this summer? So far, no. As we said at the start of camp, it’s quite possible we see Michael Pittman Jr. play this season out in a contract year. Of course, seeing the Jonathan Taylor situation play out has to have some impact on Pittman. Recent second-round wideouts have really cashed in on that second contract, but you have to debate on how legit of a No. 1 wideout Pittman is in this league. But given the need to support Anthony Richardson at all costs, doesn’t Pittman have some leverage here with Indy?

31. What’s the Year Three outlook for Dayo Odeyingbo? An early camp injury to Samson Ebukam (hamstring) gave Dayo Odeyingbo starting opportunity opposite Kwity Paye. Time flies when you think Odeyingbo is 6 months away from being in a contract year, but that’s the case. Year Three is always an extra critical one for non first-round picks. Odeyingbo had some flash this spring, as he should be fully removed from any Achilles injury question. Expect a versatile, rotational role for Odeyingbo, possibly getting on the field in the interior of the D-line on third down.

32. What’s the plan for E.J. Speed? As we wrote in the spring, E.J. Speed’s role in 2023 is so dependent on the health status of Shaquille Leonard. From the look of camp, Speed is the team’s 3rd linebacker, on the field when the team is in its base personnel, but off the field for the nickel look. The Colts like Speed though so I’m still curious if they opt for more base looks to get him on the field, or try to find other spots to play him.

33. How will the veteran offensive line respond from a disappointing season? It’s not hyperbole to say no NFL position group underperformed more last season than the Colts offensive line. Specifically, you need bounce back years (to varying degrees) from Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith. Is new position coach Tony Sparano Jr. the difference maker for an offensive line that had hardly any personnel changes this offseason? Players gush about Sparano Jr. Is his arrival the difference maker?

34. How much should the camp accuracy numbers for Anthony Richardson matter? The completion percentage/accuracy from Richardson in camp was probably to be expected. Unofficially, in the 13 camp practices, Richardson was 76-of-122 (62.2%). The expectation with Richardson is he’s not going to be in the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks from an efficiency standpoint, but he has the ability to create enough big plays to make up for that. What we saw from Richardson in camp was a guy who had misses in timing, ball placement and when to use a certain amount of velocity. More scrutiny will be there for Anthony Richardson as he enters the NFL as a 54 percent passer in college.

35. How will Kenny Moore react from a step back from last season? If you are going to make a list of Colts who had a strong camp, Kenny Moore would definitely be on that. And it was needed after such a disappointing 2022 campaign, following his public contract sit-in from last spring. It’s not often you have a player labeled as one of the most disappointing players from a previous season show up on one of the most indispensable lists the next season but that’s the case with Moore. Both the Colts and him really need to see No. 23 get back to playing like a Pro Bowler.

36. Will the Colts alter their approach to preseason games? After playing their starting offense 29 snaps in the preseason opener, the Colts sat that unit in Week 2. Through 2 preseason games, the defensive starting unit (outside of the corners) has played just 6 snaps. This question had a wrinkle to it in 2023. Why? Because the Colts have/will have 3 total joint sessions leading into their final two preseason games (remember only 3 total preseason games now). If the Colts follow normal NFL precedent, that will mean very scaled back playing time in those games. Shane Steichen seems to be following that in his first year with the Colts?

37. Is there a starting battle at right guard? I wasn’t optimistic about an actual battle here, and that thought came true in camp. Will Fries took every single starting rep at right guard until a calf injury in practice No. 12 sent Arlington Hambright into the starting unit. There was no push from undrafted free agent Emil Ekiyor Jr. and/or Danny Pinter, or even a look at them with the starters.

38. Will Jelani Woods have a breakout season? A nagging hamstring injury this offseason has forced Jelani Woods to watch more often than participate. That’s a bit of a bummer for a guy who showed flashes in 2022 of building towards more of a breakout season in Year Two. It’ll be interesting to see how the start of Woods’ second season goes/if he carves out much more of a consistent role leading to more production. Woods missed more than half of training camp, along with missing multiple weeks of team drills back in the spring.

39. Who will make up the defensive line depth? Chris Ballard always wants to rely heavily on defensive line depth. Assuming the starting D-line is a 4-man group of Kwity Paye, Samson Ebukam, DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart the Colts will have some depth decisions to make. Names to ponder for those DL depth spots: Tyquan Lewis, Dayo Odeyingbo, Adetomiwa Adebawore, Taven Bryan, Eric Johnson, McTelvin Agim and Al-Quadin Muhammad.

40. Which Day 3 draft pick will play the most in Year One? This has to have an obvious name exiting camp. It’s fifth-round pick Evan Hull. That’s what happens when you have two Day 3 picks go on injured reserve (S-Daniel Scott, OT-Jake Witt), another couple dealing with various injuries (TE-Will Mallory, CB-Darius Rush) and have two more always targeted for reserve trench roles (OT-Blake Freeland and DT- Adetomiwa Adebawore).

41. Will we see more press coverage from the cornerback group? The Colts continue to emphasize and play big, long cornerbacks. Gus Bradley has totally re-tooled the look of a Colts cornerback. Elite height and length are non-starters for Bradley’s cornerbacks. The hope is the Colts are going to play some more press coverage moving forward. Will that lead to more disruption?

42. Is there an undrafted free agent to make the team on defense? Entering camp, it was difficult to peg a serious candidate, compared to the likes of Sterling Weatherford and JoJo Domann from last year (and Dallis Flowers). Maybe Houston’s Donovan Mutin at linebacker, but some other back end of the roster linebackers emerged, specifically Grant Stuard and Segun Olubi. No one jumps off the page in the secondary, but those back-end roster spots there don’t have a lot of definities.

43. Which offensive skill player will benefit the most from Shane Steichen? One thing that is quite evident already in Shane Steichen’s first year is he brings a more open-minded view to diversifying the wide receiver room. That meant a draft pick of the smaller, yet shiftier Josh Downs, or signing Isaiah McKenzie, or giving Amari Rogers a camp chance. So let’s go with an overall “skillset” more than a player has something we’ve seen change with Steichen’s arrival.

44. Is Isaiah McKenzie the “gadget” player for the Colts? Yes. Expect McKenzie to be used all over the field under Shane Steichen. It almost seems like we forgot about the signing of McKenzie. The Colts haven’t had a player like this in quite some time. Of course, McKenzie’s massive inconsistency has held back a bigger role, so that remains something that can’t be ignored in projecting out his first year in Indy.

45. How will Kylen Granson build off of a strong spring? Honestly, probably the most beneficial part to Kylen Granson’s offseason was his availability. Unlike virtually all the other tight ends competing for serious reps, Granson was healthy and participating every single day. And Granson had some solid, consistent moments, too. Granson needs a strong season, with a new coaching staff in place and is in Year Three of his four-year rookie contract.

46. How will fans react to the intrigue of Anthony Richardson? With a lot, a lot of attention. As we predicted, crowds at Grand Park were easily the best they’ve been in the Colts 5-year history in Westfield. That’s what happens when you finally opt for youth at quarterback, and do it with one of the rarest prospect the league has ever seen.

47. Is there more to the game of Zaire Franklin? It’s amazing how Zaire Franklin has gone from important special teamer to a guy who is one the field every single defensive snap with the starters. We didn’t see much playmaking though from the linebackers in camp. More is on Franklin’s plate again in 2023 with Bobby Okereke gone, and the continued uncertainty around Shaquille Leonard.

48. Will we see any changes to the return men? The Colts are in need to find new full-time returners in Isaiah Rodgers (kick returner) and Nyheim Hines (punt returner). Expect Isaiah McKenzie and Josh Downs to get some definite looks, especially at punt returner. Dallis Flowers took over for Rodgers late last season, but doesn’t a growing defensive role for him alter those returning plans? Evan Hull is another name to keep an eye on as a kick returner. For now though, I’d stick to McKenzie and Downs as the most likely return guys.

49. Is Sam Ehlinger safe as the team’s 3rd quarterback? It appears so, as the Colts elected not to bring in a 4th quarterback at any point this offseason. The new NFL rule change allows for teams to carry a third quarterback on their game-day roster in 2023. So that’s good news for Ehlinger keeping his job in Indy.

50. How quickly does Shaquille Leonard get back to his All-Pro self, if at all? Now, while the workload Leonard got in camp, and early on, was eye-popping, it’s still premature to put the All-Pro crown back on him. We’ve got to see him more in game settings to truly evaluate there. Still though, the quantity of Leonard’s camp work was impressive to see after so much time he’s missed.

51. Is good luck in the health department finally in store for Tyquan Lewis? Lewis deserves that. After missing the first 8 practices of camp on the physically unable to perform list, Lewis made his 2023 debut on the field on August 8th. No one has had worse injury luck over the last two years than Lewis. Playing in contract years each of the last two seasons, Lewis has torn his patellar, in each knee. Both injuries have occurred near the mid-way point of promising seasons for the 2018 second-round pick. Lewis deserves a break in the health department, as he’s played double-digit games just once in his five NFL seasons.

52. Any need for a defensive free agent signing in camp? I guess not. Chris Ballard didn’t do much of substance in terms of a defensive free agent signing this camp, unless you count Al-Quadin Muhammad along the defensive line or Chris Lammons at cornerback, or fliers on former Day 2 safety picks in Ronnie Harrison and Teez Tabor. On paper, safety is pretty thin with some departures and health issues there.

53. Do the Colts have a Pro Bowl-level kicker in Matt Gay? We didn’t see much placekicking at all from the Colts during the course of their 13 practices at Grand Park. And he had an inexcusable 28-yard field goal miss in the preseason opener in Buffalo, connecting on a 35-yarder in Week 2.

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