INDIANAPOLIS – Saturday brought the Colts back inside their home of Lucas Oil Stadium for another key evaluation day before roster cuts next weekend.
It was the final full camp viewing for the media, with some family members of Colts players in the stands for the two-hour practice. Saturday’s practice saw hardly any live tackling, with a slightly less physical practice compared to Monday’s session. The practice had more of a pass game focus, with Reich wanting a few more extended drives for conditioning purposes, knowing the heat in Jacksonville waiting in Week 1.
What were my takeaways from Saturday’s practice, the 8th in full pads, at Lucas Oil Stadium?
-I had Philip Rivers going roughly 16-of-28 on Saturday. After starting 6-for-6, Rivers finished 10-of-22. The starting offense came out with some early tempo and that had Rivers in a great, accurate rhythm. Following practice, Rivers lauded the usage of going at a quicker pace, comparing it to using a flurry of punches in a boxing match. Rivers also said the Colts have their entire playbook open going no-huddle and not just a select package of 7-8 plays. Rivers also threw some of his deepest throws of camp on Saturday.
-One play that caught my eye from Rivers on Saturday was taking advantage of a blitz to find his hot read for a big completion. A slot blitz against Rivers had the quarterback immediately scanning to where the blitz came from and laying a perfect touch pass out towards the sideline for the completion to undrafted free agent DeMichael Harris. This is one of the peak reasons why the Colts wanted Rivers: having the knowledge to identify the pressure, and then processing things quickly enough to attack where the blitz came from, and making the defense pay.
-In kicker world on Saturday, rec specs had a pretty good day: Rodrigo Blankenship was 6-for-7, with makes from 33, 37, 41, 52, 56, 57 yards and a miss from 48. Chase McLaughlin was 4-of-7, with misses coming from 48, 52 and 56 yards and makes from 33, 37, 41, and 52. This was the best day we’ve seen from the undrafted rookie. Is this battle getting closer? In the two Lucas Oil Stadium practices, McLaughlin went 12-of-15 and Blankenship went 11-of-15. Following Saturday’s practice, Frank Reich said he thinks both McLaughlin and Blankenship are ‘NFL kickers’ and will be kicking for some team in the league this season.
-Tight end Trey Burton got hurt about mid-way through practice, limping off the field without putting any weight on his left foot. At halftime, Burton put some weight on left foot, but was helped to the locker room by a couple of members of the staff, while walking very slowly. Frank Reich said following practice that Burton suffered a calf injury and will get an MRI. Burton dealt with a calf injury last year in Chicago, which was one of several injuries that ultimately led to his release back in April. After talking with Burton following practice, Reich said he thinks the injury could force the versatile tight end to miss some time. This is something to monitor with an already banged up tight end group. The Colts think really highly of Burton and he’s going to play a big role for them in 2020 (if healthy).
-Rookie cornerback Isaiah Rodgers is back healthy and the Colts are giving him a great chance to prove himself. Rodgers had a big kick return on Saturday, and saw action with the defensive starters at various points (remember Kenny Moore is still out with a groin injury). The cornerback from UMass is going to make this team and looks like he could potentially have some Day 1 role.
-Saturday’s practice included another drop for rookie Michael Pittman. That’s probably around 5 for him this camp. At USC, Pittman was known as a sure-handed wideout, including frequently bringing down 50-50 balls down the field. We haven’t seen those opportunities for Pittman this camp, and just too many drops in general. Pittman did bounce back on Saturday with several catches in traffic during the second half. Frank Reich said after Saturday’s practice that he thinks Pittman’s hands will become more reliable once the rookie has a better mental understanding of everything that goes into playing wideout in the NFL. Speaking of drops, Jonathan Taylor had 2 on Saturday, with him having around 4-5 this camp. Entering the NFL, this was one of the bigger questions on Taylor, curious if he could have a role on third down at some point.
-The defensive line depth is seen virtually every practice. I thought Saturday was a pretty good day for the first-team defensive line against the first-team offensive line, too. Al-Quadin Muhammad had a sack against Anthony Castonzo. Denico Autry had a solid day rushing as well.
-DeForest Buckner deserves his own mention for disrupting things on Saturday. On back-to-back plays, Buckner whipped Braden Smith for a tackle for loss. Then Buckner bullrushed center Ryan Kelly to force an earlier throw from Rivers. It was Buckner looking like one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. The length of Buckner is something that has stood out to Reich, who calls the new defensive tackle a ‘game wrecker.’ Like Chris Ballard, Reich is bullish on the defensive line being a strength for the Colts in 2020.
-The offensive highlight on Saturday was a perfectly placed deep ball from Philip Rivers to an in stride T.Y. Hilton for a 47-yard touchdown
-Speaking of deep attempts, Rivers uncorked another in the target of Michael Pittman before the TD to Hilton. The ball was on target, but Malik Hooker showed off his range in coming over to force the incompletion. It was a great play by the rangy safety.
-The defensive highlight from Saturday was Tavon Wilson forcing a deflection that Zaire Franklin brought in for an interception with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.
-The Colts have 7 linebackers on their roster: Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker, Bobby Okereke, E.J. Speed, Matthew Adams, Zaire Franklin, Jordan Galsgow. Do not be surprised if they keep all 7, with those back-end guys offering help on special teams.
-You are seeing the value of the T.J. Carrie signing this camp. The veteran cornerback is playing a whole lot in the slot and also as an outside cornerback, with Kenny Moore banged up and Marvell Tell not playing in 2020.
-Over the last two weeks, when the third-team offense has gotten on the field for the first time, Chad Kelly has been the guy far more often than Jacob Eason. Like I’ve written before, it’s a bit confusing to see that considering the resources attached to each player and obviously knowing that Eason needs far more development than two weeks of training camp, with no preseason games. Is what we’ve seen possibly indicative of how the Colts will handle next week’s roster cuts? Or will it still be Eason on the 53-man roster and trying to get Kelly on the practice squad?
-Just like Monday’s ‘scrimmage’ at Lucas Oil, it took until the second half for Jacob Eason to get onto the field. Eason went 3-of-4, with one drop, in his only 11-on-11 action. The ball placement was again right on-target from Eason, including a well thrown ball outside the numbers to Reece Fountain for about 30 yards (Fountain did a really nice job bringing the ball down).
-Couple of names that stood out to me on Saturday for various reasons: CB-Tremon Smith, DT-Tyquan Lewis, LB-Matthew Adams, Rb-Nyheim Hines, CB-T.J. Carrie, WR-DeMichael Harris
Injury Report: Kemoko Turay remains on the physically unable to perform list. Julian Blackmon is on the non-football injury list. Other guys who did not appear to be practicing on Saturday included: CB-Kenny Moore (groin), WR-Parris Campbell (concussion protocol), WR-Zach Pascal (hamstring), WR-Marcus Johnson, DL-Sheldon Day (knee), TE-Jack Doyle (neck). Reich did not have a definite update on when Turay would make his practice debut in 2020, other than to say he’s making good progress last week. Reich said Day is ‘going to take a little time to heal’ as the Indy native has not participated in any of the full-padded practices so far. Moore is starting to do some on-field, change of direction, rehab work. He was originally supposed to miss ‘at least a week’ after getting hurt on August 17th. Reich said on Saturday that Moore is ‘very close’ to returning. Tight end Trey Burton got hurt about mid-way through practice, limping off the field without putting any weight on his left foot. At halftime, Burton put some weight on left foot, but was helped to the locker room by a couple of members of the staff, while walking very slowly. Frank Reich said following practice that Burton suffered a calf injury and will get an MRI. After talking with Burton following practice, Reich said he thinks the injury could force the versatile tight end to miss some time. This is something to monitor with an already banged up tight end group. The Colts think really highly of Burton and he’s going to play a big role for them in 2020 (if healthy).