INDIANAPOLIS – “It’s game week, guys! Let’s go!
Nick Sirianni was fired up on Tuesday afternoon as he sat down to chat with the media, knowing that the regular season opener awaits this Sunday afternoon.
The Colts will get back to practice on Wednesday, with a normal Wednesday-Friday on-field work week before heading to Jacksonville this weekend.
What were the takeaways from the Colts on Tuesday?
–He looks like your tax man or IT consultant, and will also be doing the placekicking for your Indianapolis Colts. That’s undrafted kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who has extended the Colts’ streak to 22 straight years of having at least rookie undrafted free agent on the Week 1 roster. How down to earth is Blankenship? He spent roster cut eve building two LEGO sets (“a Ferrari car and a Star Wars set”) and talking with his girlfriend. Blankenship says he had no indication he was making the final roster, until special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone called to inform him of the good news.
-What does Blankenship think of taking over for Adam Vinatieri? “I’m not trying to be anybody’s replacement. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Adam and everything he’s done. I think it’s safe to say, he’s the best to do it so far. But I don’t want to have a mindset of trying to replace him. I just want to be the best that I can be, be the best version of myself. I’m trying to focus on being the best Rodrigo I can be and hopefully that’ll get the job done.”
-One final note on the kicker choice to keep Rodrigo Blankenkship and cut Chase McLaughlin—the Colts see a maturation from Hot Rod, kicking in college football’s biggest atmospheres. They feel like he has the makeup and traits that they want at the kicker position. While Blankenkship kicked in massive SEC venues, an SEC Championship and a National Title, there’s no doubting that each kick in the NFL carries much more weight. Extra points are 33 yards in the NFL, and not the 20-yard tap-in as in college. And think of the parity throughout the NFL. Last year, the Colts played one possession games in each of their first nine weeks of the season. Georgia had 5 one-possession games in the entire season (14 games). The pressure of each and every kick, extra point or field goal, just matters more to team success at this level.
-A number switch to 26 (after wearing numbers 2 and 6 in college), from 34, will also lead to a new-look playing style from Rock Ya-Sin. The second-year cornerback says his style has changed—stressing the need to play with better footwork throughout his time in coverage and no longer playing with his hands on guys past the legal 5-yard zone. Ya-Sin said he wants to be more disciplined at the top of routes, leading to making more plays on the ball. The Colts are really pleased with how Ya-Sin looked in his second NFL camp. The 6-0 corner says he is understanding concepts better, recognizing concepts faster and feels more decisive with his play.
-“What are the odds,” is what Parris Campbell thought to himself when he was involved in a car crash two weeks ago, in which his vehicle was totaled. Campbell missed a few days of practice while in concussion protocol, but has now been full-go for about a week. For a guy who had 4 different injuries limit him to 7 games as a rookie, one can only imagine what Campbell was thinking after the car crash. The speedster is quite excited for his second NFL season and will play a big role in an offense looking for more chunk plays.
-What is Nick Sirianni expecting from Philip Rivers in his debut season with the Colts? “I expect him to be the guy that leads the offense. We know how accurate he is and we know how he’s a great decision maker. He’s accurate. He makes, good, fast decisions. So I expect that out of him in the pass game. Getting us into the right protection call, because this guy studies blitzes and the opposing team more than anyone I’ve ever been around. In the run game, just running the show, checking when he needs to, getting people in position to make plays. I expect the same Philip Rivers that we had when we were in San Diego together.” Again, it’s that chess piece mental component to Rivers’ game that the Colts are really counting on at the quarterback position.
-Lots of questions about how the Colts handle skill group playing time in a given game. Sirianni touched on that a little on Tuesday: “We have a plan that we go into each game with, ‘Hey, this is who we want on these certain plays.’ So we definitely script it out, this is who we want on this play, this is who we want on that play. But naturally, through a game, you sub to keep guys fresh. And we feel so confident in everybody on our roster that we are willing to do that.”
-On Sunday, we heard Chris Ballard praise Malik Hooker for the type of camp that the 4th-year safety had in 2020. What did defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus see from Hooker? “I think he’s doing well. If you looked at our scrimmages, I thought he was doing well. I think he’s working on his footwork, working on reading his keys. His drive points to the football have improved, run or pass. Those angles are so important when you are playing that safety position, being able to key and read fast and beat them to the punch. And then your angles are so important to be able to make plays against the run and the pass.”
-Speaking of tackling, it is a ‘concern’ heading into Week 1 for Eberflus. Even Frank Reich has mentioned that as a major key, especially without any preseason game reps, and minimal ‘live’ sessions during camp. We know the Colts struggled in last year’s opener with their tackling. Will it be an issue again in this Week 1 contest?
-Matt Eberflus liked what he saw out of rookie Julian Blackmon’s first week of practice. “Julian really looked well. I think the rehab guys have done an awesome job with him in getting him to where he is right now. He looked really good in terms of his quickness and his change, and his stamina. Because those are the things you worry about. Is he able to change gears? Does he look quick? And then his stamina to be able to push through and be able to go through a practice. But he looks really quick and agile, and is able to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. So we are excited where he is.” Considering Blackmon labeled himself as “95 percent, if not higher” physically last week, hearing this description isn’t that stunning, but it’s still positive to hear. Will Blackmon be good to go for his NFL debut at some point in September?
-The Colts will practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week before heading to Jacksonville on Saturday, with Sunday’s season opener kicking at 1:00.
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