INDIANAPOLIS – With the calendar turning to September, some pretty important dates are on the horizon for the Colts.
It starts with roster cuts this Saturday, followed by the season opener a week from Sunday.
Right now, the Colts are working with a roster hovering just under 80 players, knowing it needs to be trimmed to 53 by Saturday, with two more practices remaining this week.
What were the takeaways from the Colts on Tuesday?
-T.Y. Hilton is calling Philip Rivers and him ‘the perfect match.’ Why? Because both believe they excel at finding those gaps in zone coverage. “He likes throwing it into the soft spots and I like finding the soft spots,” Hilton said on Tuesday. This goes back to what Frank Reich was saying at the start of training camp about Hilton and Rivers—‘two instinctual players who understand timing and spacing well.’ Might we see a slightly different Hilton this season, one with more catches, but a smaller yards per reception?
-We know the reps were a bit scarce for Jacob Eason this camp, but the Colts still like what they saw from the rookie. “I saw great arm strength to make throws outside of the number, decision making continuing to get better and better when he’s dropping back to pass the football,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said on Tuesday. “I keep seeing improved ‘get us into the right play, get the people in the right position to do their job,’ handling the different looks the defense gives us and that’s really exciting. That’s a hard part—to play football and process everything at the same speed. I’m just seeing continued development there.” The physical aspect with Eason speaks for itself. That wasn’t a worry entering the league. It was this mental aspect that was more of a question. It’s a massive part of Eason potentially doing anything in the league. So far, pretty good in the early going for the rookie.
-Monday was Julian Blackmon’s first time participating in an NFL practice. On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus commented how the Colts want to see a healthy Blackmon first get solidified at a spot (safety), and then see where else he can impact the defense (with his range, covering 1-on-1, blitzing, etc.). Again, Eberflus pointed out the pitch count for Blackmon early on and you know the Colts are all-in on the long-term approach with their rookie safety. It’s still a positive development for the Colts, in possibly having another versatile defensive back to work with at some point early in the season.
-We also heard for Blackmon on Tuesday, recapping his first NFL practice. Blackmon says he is right around “95 percent, if not a little bit higher than that.” That’s a great sign for him possibly playing in the month of September. Blackmon said this is the most extensive injury/rehab he’s had in his career (he tore his ACL in the PAC-12 Championship game last December).
-Matt Eberflus seems pleased with where Xavier Rhodes is at heading into the season: “He’s doing well. Xavier is working on his technique and that’s something when he does it very well, he’s a really efficient player.” Rhodes spoke earlier in camp about how he feels learning more zone techniques will actually make things easier for him from a stress standpoint.
-The Colts have two more practices this week, and then it’s full-on Jacksonville mode, with the Week 1 opener coming a week from Sunday. Kemoko Turay remains on the physically unable to perform list, as he nears 11 months from dislocating and fracturing his ankle (against Kansas City in October 2019). Given the handful of practices left before things get real, Turay’s availability for Week 1 is in question. On Tuesday, Matt Eberflus said Turay will have to compete for his spot when he gets back, noting the team’s defensive line depth. Yes, that’s true, but it’s also accurate to state that the Colts do not have another rusher off the edge like Turay, who brings a dominant speed trait to the position. At Tuesday’s practice, Turay was off to the side doing some running with a helmet on.
-Nick Sirianni was asked on Tuesday about the usage of a fullback here in 2020, in reference to Roosevelt Nix being waived on Monday night. Sirianni directed any roster specific questions to Chris Ballard or Frank Reich, other than saying that he’s “he’s really confident in the running back group.” Back in the spring, the Colts thought Nix at fullback could be something used around 10-15 percent of the time. Obviously, that isn’t going to happen in 2020. What the Nix waiving—which I wasn’t that stunned by—says to me is the Colts like their 4-man running back group (Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins) and they could probably use an extra number at tight end right now, with the Trey Burton injury situation. Nix was hardly taking any first-team reps in camp.
-The Colts will practice Wednesday and Thursday this week before taking Friday off, with roster cuts coming Saturday. The 2020 season opener comes September 13th in Jacksonville.