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INDIANAPOLIS – The new digs awaiting the Indianapolis Colts when they returned to their complex earlier this week are pretty impressive.
Remodeled locker, training and weight rooms have the Colts in a much different looking home than when they left for Grand Park.
Practices are now closed to the media (outside of 20 minutes for stretching/individual drills) with the Colts shifting into regular season mode.
Here is a notebook look at what was observed during Wednesday and Thursday practices:
-We had a decent amount of injury/position battle news coming out of the Colts’ headquarters the last two days. Let’s dive into the good and the bad of that news:
-Marlon Mack’s injured hamstring is no guarantee to be healed by Week One. Mack tweaked the hamstring two weeks ago in the preseason opener in Seattle. “I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that he’s ready (for Week One), but we are hopeful that he will be,” Frank Reich said on Thursday. This next week will be real critical because, obviously, we will want him to practice. He’s going to need to be ready to practice. Certainly, we don’t like playing guys without a whole week of practice. We will just keep evaluating that. Hopefully he can be ready to go starting at the beginning of the following week (Monday, Sept. 3) when we get ready for the Bengals.” If Mack’s hamstring limits him in any way for the start of the regular season, the Colts will be relying heavily on rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines and veteran Christine Michael.
-Anthony Castonzo definitely expects to be ready for Week One. “It would have to be a catastrophe for me not to be,” the eight-year left tackle said on Wednesday. A nagging hamstring injury has limited Castonzo to just a few practices this preseason. Game reps in the remaining two preseason games are not expected for him. “I think I could go out there and play (Week One) as long as I have some practice under my belt,” Castonzo said. “I can’t just go out there and go onto the game field for the first time. Once I get in there, I think I’m going to be taking every single one-on-one I can in practice because that’s the life of a left tackle out there. I’m going to have to get my conditioning up to speed because I’ve had the hamstring for a while now. That’s probably the biggest concern.” The bigger concern would be how the Colts look at left tackle if Castonzo can’t start the regular season. For now, that doesn’t look to be likely. Do not be surprised if Joe Haeg gets another chance at left tackle on Saturday. Le’Raven Clark has been getting those reps as of late.
-Speaking of tackle, let’s try and explain the right tackle mess. So, the Colts would like to have this decision solved by early next week, but aren’t ruling out the need to see the fourth preseason game before making that decision. Denzelle Good is back to practice and will play around 20 snaps with the second team on Saturday night. He has a chance to start Week One. Rookie Braden Smith played solid in his starting chance on Monday. But the Colts are now moving Smith over to right guard, his more natural position, as they give other guys a chance at right tackle. It sounds like that means another chance for veteran Austin Howard to earn the starting job that he was the favorite for entering camp. Howard has struggled in August, and has been demoted on more than one occasion. Howard could very well be the starter on Saturday. So, it looks like the Colts could be using every week of the preseason to evaluate a different right tackle with the starting lineup (Week 1-J’Marcus Webb, Week 2-Braden Smith, Week 3-Austin Howard, Week 4-Denzelle Good).
-I’m guessing the starting offensive line will look like this Saturday: LT-Joe Haeg, LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Ryan Kelly, RG-Braden Smith, RT-Austin Howard. I think it’s still too early to say that Smith is competing with Matt Slauson, who has taken virtually every single starting rep at right guard in 2018.
-Saturday night will be “the final tune-up” for the starters, Frank Reich said after Thursday’s practice. Those frontline starters will not play in the preseason finale next Thursday. As far as playing time for this Saturday, Reich is keeping things open. “I don’t pigeonhole us into it has to be a half or come out for the third quarter (for starting playing time). I just want to keep it fluid. You want to get into a rhythm, score some points and then when you feel you are hitting a high note, you say, ‘Okay that’s good. Let’s keep rolling with the next group.’”
-Andrew Luck will get his final run of the preseason on Saturday night. Among the things that Luck wants to “feel less awkward” with, the quarterback pointed out throwing the ball down the field, improving timing with his new receivers and the general in-game flow that you can’t script in practice. Luck has played 7 series so far this preseason (3 field goals, 1 interception, 3 punts).
-Veteran running back Robert Turbin (ankle) made his return to practice for the first time in two weeks. Turbin was in a limited role and has a slim chance to play on Saturday. If Turbin can progress through practice early next week, he might just play in the preseason finale before heading to the suspension list for the first four weeks of the season.
-Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus believes that this new defensive scheme is easier for young guys to get on the field early on: “If you look at the history of the system we have been able to play with younger players faster, I believe. I don’t have statistical data to back that up, but in just my experiences it seems like we have been able to get young linebackers on the field, young defensive ends and those types of players and really acquisition players as well. Have them come in, learn the system and have them play right away and play pretty effective. I think it’s really based on the laws and principles of teaching we have established over the course of the time we have ran the system and the course of the time the system has been ran. So it’s a simplistic way to teach and it turns guys loose and it should be fun to watch and fun to play in, and that’s what we are searching for. We aren’t there yet, but that is what we are searching for.”
-Eberflus also said some players have come to him questioning the proper technique that is allowed with this new helmet rule: “There is a little bit there, but we have to adhere to the rules and we are certainly looking at every way to do that. The way we tackle is what we call a hamstring tackle. So the helmet is clearly on the outside, we are hitting with the top of our shoulder pads, our aiming point is between the waist and the knees, so it’s a lower aiming point, and we are going to grab for the hamstrings, or behind the knees and we are going to wrap, and we are going to run our feet. Nowhere in there it says to strike with the helmet, our helmet is in the middle of the body, it’s always on the outside. In fact, if it’s on the outside and behind the guy, we roll the guy back to the line of scrimmage. So those are the things we are teaching, those are the things that we drill. Now, in the course of a game you will see some impacts that because of the way the guy got hit by another player and the other player was coming on a certain angle. You might see some things that they might call and it’s not intentional. It’s certainly by the coach or the design or from the player. We really do have safety in mind and tackle physical but in a safe way.” Frank Reich believes the helmet calls will decrease during the regular season.
-Offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni touched on the issues in the run game against Baltimore: “Just our fundamentals and technique. I was taught a long time ago that football – they’re going to have good schemes, we’re going to have good schemes. Can we get the players better fundamentally? And can the players take the things that we are giving to them fundamentally and do them on the field? That’s the sign of a good player, in my opinion, and that’s the sign of a good coach when that kind of meshes together. So, I think it wasn’t just in the run game that the fundamentals broke down. It was in every aspect. We just need to play better fundamentally and we as coaches will continue to not let things slide and just hammer it home. I know our players will respond to it like they have in the past.”
-The following players are still banged up and missed practice this week: DL-Denico Autry (ankle), WR-K.J. Brent (knee), OT-Anthony Castonzo (right hamstring), LB-Jeremiah George (back), QB-Brad Kaaya (ankle), DL-Tyquan Lewis (right foot), RB-Marlon Mack (left hamstring), LB-Anthony Walker (groin), WR-James Wright (knee). Also missing on Thursday were: DE-Tarell Basham (knee), CB-Nate Hairston (hamstring), CB-D.J. White (groin), CB-Quincy Wilson (hand).
-Guys who were previously injured, but have returned to practice include: C-Deyshawn Bond (concussion), S-Chris Cooper (hip), WR-T.Y. Hilton (shoulder), WR-Krishawn Hogan (right ankle), DE-Anthony Johnson (back), DE-Kemoko Turay (knee).