INDIANAPOLIS – It’s time to answer those pre training camp questions.
Before the start of training camp, we asked 53 questions of the Colts (going off the magic roster cut down number of 53).
With the 16 practices, plus three preseason games, complete, let’s try and answer all of them:
1. How different will the playing style at QB be with Matt Ryan? As expected, you got a pretty obvious look at how things will be different at quarterback. Ryan excels as a processor and his pre-snap recognition should lead to a quicker rhythm at that position. His accuracy was on-point throughout camp. Chunk plays down the field were not too abundant during camp, so this is something to keep an eye on.
2. How healthy is Darius Leonard? Well, No. 53’s name changed to Shaquille Leonard at the start of camp. And we never saw Leonard on the practice field in any of the 16 sessions. His availability for the start of the season is very much up in the air. The Colts have taken Leonard off the physically unable to perform list though, and his return to practice on Wednesday was the first major tangible positive step in him returning to game action this offseason.
3. Can Mo Alie-Cox put it all together? Without question, Mo Alie-Cox tops the tight end depth chart. While Alie-Cox was the second most frequent pass catcher of Matt Ryan this camp. Will he be able to provide close to the consistency that we saw from Jack Doyle? Alie-Cox needs to do the boring things, which Doyle really excelled at, well.
4. Will the Colts have better key availability for their frontline guys in camp? Yes! Yes! Yes! The Colts just had a pretty darn healthy training camp. Outside of Shaquille Leonard, every single Colts starter participated in the first 14 training camp practices. That’s a miracle. Yes, Ryan Kelly and Kwity Paye had their late-camp absences, but this was a great camp for the starting lineup being available.
5. Will we see more blitzing with the arrival of Gus Bradley? Obviously, the Colts are not specifically game-planning for an offense in training camp. And heavy blitzing is not expected from Gus Bradley. We saw the occasional extra body or two come flying in on a blitz, but nothing too crazy.
6. Who emerges on the special teams coverage units? Losses of George Odum, Matthew Adams and Jordan Glasgow means the Colts are turning to some new core special teams guys. This is where the undrafted linebacker class and back end of the roster defensive backs factor in. The Colts have to replace 3 of their top 7 special teams guys from last season. That’s why the Colts made the trade for Tampa Bay LB-Grant Stuard. It’ll be interesting to see how much the Colts want to use Ashton Dulin on special teams this year, with a growing role on offense.
7. Is Alex Pierce ready for needed rookie impact? Yes. Pierce is one of the Colts top three wideouts exiting Grand Park. Pierce made plays during on 1-on-1 drills almost routine in camp, but the 11-on-11 production was much quieter for the second-round pick.
8. Will the offense have any timing issues? When the full pads came on, the passing offense struggled more often than not in the timing/consistency department. The issues weren’t as much in the off-target accuracy from the quarterback, but more so in finding that open space to complete balls in the passing game, before a defender is in position to force an incompletion.
9. Is Julian Blackmon definitely going to be good for Week 1? Without question. It’s absolutely remarkable to continue to see Julian Blackmon’s return from his torn Achilles last October. There’s been no rest days, no monitoring of reps. Blackmon is a future star for the Colts.
10. Is Jonathan Taylor’s workload going to dip at all? Dating back to college, these are the season carry numbers for Jonathan Taylor’s last 5 years of football: 332, 232, 320, 307, 299. He’s yet to miss a game due to injury in that span. Is Deon Jackson prepared to handle some spell duty, and is that something the Colts want to explore with the 23-year-old Taylor?
11. How physical will the Colts go in camp? Make no mistake, the wide majority of the NFL has scaled back on the physicality in training camp. Outside of less than a handful of third-team reps, the Colts did not do any full tackling in camp. They were in full pads for about half of the 16 practices.
12. Who will play more at corner—Brandon Facyson or Isaiah Rodgers Sr.? This battle wasn’t much of one. Brandon Facyson, who has ample experience with Gus Bradley, took the 3rd cornerback spot and never looked back. Rodgers enters the season as the 4th corner.
13. How simple will Gus Bradley’s scheme be? The expectation is Gus Bradley isn’t going to overhaul things and drastically change the defensive approach. And we saw that in camp. Pre-snap disguise is the name of the game for Bradley in his heavy Cover 3 scheme.
14. Is Quenton Nelson’s mega contract extension coming before the start of the season? So far, mum is the word on Nelson getting a new extension. Nelson, himself, would not even sniff any contract related talk from the media in camp. Typically, the Colts get these rookie extensions done in July/August, but this is the first time that Ballard has extended one of his own first-round picks.
15. Will Kenny Moore II sit out? No. Moore participated from day one of camp. Chris Ballard said at the start of camp “…at some point it’s time to play football…” Moore followed suit as he plays this season with 2 years left on his contract.
16. Is there an undrafted free agent to make the team on offense? Unlike on defense, it was a little more difficult to see a decent pre-camp choice for an undrafted free agent to make the team on offense. No one jumped off the page, but interior OL-Wesley French ended up making the initial 53-man roster. This seems less about the impact French made and more to do with the desperate nature of the OL depth.
17. How beneficial will the Lions joint practices be? It seemed to be two very competitive days of work with the Lions. Fights and skirmishes were at a minimum. The competition with the Lions might not be at the top of the NFL barometer, but it was a nice, and needed, change of pace for the Colts.
18. Who makes up the third-down pass rush package? As expected, the Colts have 3 locks for their third-down rush packages. That would be DE-Yannick Ngakoue, DE-Kwity Paye, DT-DeForest Buckner. To complete that group, the Colts appear to be good with either DL-Dayo Odeyingbo sliding inside or going back to DL-Tyquan Lewis, who is starting to look healthier and healthier. I’ll go with Lewis as the 4th guy heading into September.
19. Will the Colts play more safeties under Gus Bradley? A change in defensive coordinator doesn’t appear to mean the Colts will use any more dime looks (6 defensive backs) than they did under Matt Eberflus. When the Colts went to their nickel package, they brought an additional corner on the field (Brandon Facyson). We didn’t see really any exploring of a 6th defensive back—either another corner or 3rd safety—in camp.
20. Do we see the Colts change and benefit in Week 1 from a different camp plan? We’ll get into the preseason playing time below, but something that definitely changed for the Colts this camp was the availability. In the first 14 practices, the Colts had 21 of their 22 starters participate in some capacity, typically fully, in every single practice. That’s incredible. And super rare for this franchise. Shaquille Leonard (back/ankle) was the only exception.
21. Does Michael Pittman take the jump he wants, and the Colts need? If you are making a list of the best Colts players in training camp, Michael Pittman might be at the top. Now, how that translates into the regular season when you factor in opposing defenses game planning will largely dictate how big of a season Pittman will have in 2022.
22. What will come from a new defensive line approach? This is group that gets up the field right off the snap. In a way, expect the Colts to always try and get after the passer, while stopping the run on the way. The pass rush had moments early in camp, but was quieter in the preseason.
23. Does Mike Strachan earn more trust? Well, a torn meniscus for Strachan in late May led to a knee scope and his absence for the first 10 practices/1 preseason game of camp. But Strachan returned last week and made an immediate impact in practice, plus 3 catches and a touchdown in the second preseason game. Strachan gets another shot on the 53-man roster.
24. Who will start next to Julian Blackmon? This was the truest starting battle we saw at Grand Park. Rookie Nick Cross made a strong early impression, before veteran Rodney McLeod got healthier and started to split some reps. This strong safety battle doesn’t appear to be fully settled yet, but I’ll give the slight nod to Cross for Week 1.
25. How much playing time can Stephon Gilmore handle? To me, it was a bit of a surprise how much the 32-year-old Gilmore practiced in training camp. There were no veteran days off for him. There was very little pitch count. That’s great news as the Colts are banking on Gilmore returning to a high level of play/full health.
26. Will health ever cooperate for Parris Campbell? Outside of a very brief hamstring scare in the middle of camp, Parris Campbell was healthy and fully participating in the entire training camp. That’s obviously great. We have seen Campbell healthy in camp before though. Still, it was a really healthy camp for Campbell and that’s critical for him in the final year of his rookie contract.
27. Who wins the 3rd running back job? I felt very confident in this being Philip Lindsay. But the Colts opted for more of a special teams focus in keeping their running back number at 3. The two-time 1,000-yard rusher had some nice moments in camp, but he got the scissors. Deon Jackson, who battled some ball security issues in camp, is the emergency back if Jonathan Taylor goes down. Chris Ballard has not ruled out a Lindsay return though.
28. Is Reggie Wayne the veteran presence needed in the receiver room? If you base the Colts lack of veteran wideout moves off this, then the answer would be yes. Michael Pittman’s 30 games of NFL experience remains the most veteran of any wide receiver.
29. Will the Colts have more confidence in their quarterback? Nick Foles had some up and down moments in camp. But he’s the definite backup and the Colts do have more confidence in him than their backup situation of Jacob Eason/Brett Hundley/Sam Ehlinger from last year. Ehlinger is the 3rd QB, currently secure on the 53-man roster.
30. Will an extremely unproven tight end group miss Jack Doyle’s reliability? It’s hard not to see this being a ‘yes’ given the quiet relate-ability that Doyle provided the Colts. The season-ending injury to the emerging Drew Ogletree was a blow to the tight end depth, too. Whlle Mo Alie-Cox and Kylen Granson had some nice moments in camp, you worry about their dependability in the receiving game.
31. Will DeForest Buckner reach that definite All-Pro level? After a back injury limited Buckner’s reps early in camp, he got back to a full workload later at Grand Park. It is always hard to completely judge the interior of the defensive line in camp though.
32. Who finishes second on the team in catches? If you go off of the training camp totals, this is going to be a great race behind Michael Pittman. Kylen Granson, Mo Alie-Cox, Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Parris Campbell all had a tight race for the 2nd most catches in camp. I’ll go with Hines as my winner though.
33. Will Bobby Okereke earn a second contract in Indy? The 2019 Draft was very ‘meh’ by Chris Ballard. Okereke, a third-round pick, has been a nice consistent starter though. And the fourth-year linebacker had a really strong camp with Shaquille Leonard sidelined. But the money at linebacker is already pretty tight with Leonard’s second contract and even the second deal given to Zaire Franklin.
34. Will the Colts alter their approach to preseason games? Yes. Frank Reich and Chris Ballard decided that they needed to play their starters more in the preseason and they backed that up, to a degree. In the preseason opener, it was the Colts playing 20 of their 22 starters and the Bills playing 0 of their starters. The Colts even played a few starters in their second preseason game. And in the preseason finale, the Colts had their starters out there for around a quarter. Compared to recent years, this was an uptick in the starters playing during the preseason.
35. Who wins the left tackle job? Matt Pryor took every single starting left tackle rep in camp, until a late absence for Ryan Kelly led to some shifting around. Pryor was never threatened by rookie Bernard Raimann for the starting job. Expect Raimann to be the top tackle reserve. Veteran Dennis Kelly injured his knee early in camp and was never heard from again, getting cut earlier this week.
36. What will be the role for Dayo Odeyingbo? It looks like Odeyignbo will be a reserve defensive end rotating in, and might have a consistent role in the interior of the defensive line when the pass downs arrive.
37. Do we see any more playing time for E.J. Speed? Considering how much time Shaquille Leonard missed this camp, it was surprising to see E.J. Speed not get a little bit more run with the starting unit. Speed was only on the field with the starters when they used 3 linebackers. Outside of that, it was Bobby Okereke and Zaire Franklin taking the bulk of the nickel/starting reps in those 2-linebacker packages.
38. Who wins the right guard job? Danny Pinter. Just like Matt Pryor at left tackle, Pinter never lost his starting right guard job at Grand Park. Pinter did slide over to center for the injured Ryan Kelly when he was needed there for a few periods, and then again when Kelly missed the final two days of camp due to a positive COVID test.
39. Any need for a defensive free agent signing in camp? It was a very quiet camp for the defensive free agent signings. A camp signing of DT-Caeveon Patton was the only defensive free agent move in camp.
40. Will Rodrigo Blankenship regain his kicking job? Yep. Jake Verity’s extra point miss in the preseason opener was a crippling blow to any realistic shot he had at challenging Hot Rod. Blankenship kicked the ball pretty well at Grand Park. Chris Ballard has shot down the idea of the Colts scouring the kicker waiver wire at all, if they feel the need to explore more leg distance.
41. Will the offensive line get back to being elite? The offensive line defined continuity throughout training camp, with all 5 starters participating in the first 14 practices together. It wasn’t until Ryan Kelly’s positive COVID test on the second to last day of camp that the Colts had to change things up with their starting O-line. The group wasn’t too impressive in the lone quarter of work this preseason though.
42. Will Yannick Ngakoue’s presence open things up for others on the defensive line? It appears so. Ngakoue definitely brings a presence and edge, which is something the Colts have lacked in recent years. As a pure speed rusher, Ngakoue offers the Colts something they have hoped for to complement DeForest Buckner.
43. Who is the team’s second wide receiver? You could probably make cases for Parris Campbell or Alec Pierce, but it was the former who had more starting catches in camp. When the Colts go with 3 wideouts this season, Campbell and Pierce will be on the field. You probably give the nod to Campbell if you are slotting one of them into the ‘No. 2’ role.
44. Do we see a second-year jump for Kwity Paye? It wasn’t the most disruptive camp from Paye, granted he was facing a pretty stout right tackle in Braden Smith. And Paye’s camp ended two days early with a left knee injury. Paye believes rushing from the left side this year with help him, as he’s more comfortable over there vs. the right side he was rushing from a good amount last year.
45. Will Sam Ehlinger earn a spot on the 53-man roster? It was a nice preseason for Ehlinger and he proved to be too valuable to risk on waiver wires. Nick Foles is the definite backup for 2022, with Ehlinger on the active roster, likely until the health situation gets a little bit more complicated. The Colts really feel that Ehlinger would have been claimed had they exposed him to waivers.
46. How versatile of a weapon will Nyheim Hines be? Very, very, very. The Colts are going to use Nyheim Hines a lot. They will move him around a lot. He will be in motion a lot. And he will touch the ball a lot. The Colts rested Hines in the preseason finale, another sign of what they think of his role in 2022.
47. Will T.Y. Hilton get a call? Not enough of a call that got him to come to Grand Park. The Colts elected to go through a 16-practice training camp and hold back on making a move for a veteran wideout. Have we seen Hilton play his final snap with the Colts? How about the NFL?
48. Does Kylen Granson have a drop problem? Compared to the spring, Granson was better with his dependability in camp, but we still saw some drops. Granson can provide big plays for this offense, but at what expense of drops?
49. Who will make up the offensive line depth? Hmm, about this group. Unlike last year, the Colts have a much, much more inexperienced group of reserve offensive linemen this year. Bernhard Raimann is a definite backup. So is Will Fries in the interior. But how the Colts fill out the rest of the group remains to be seen. It’s beyond inexperienced.
50. Who is a sleeper to emerge at wideout? It’s hard to say anyone truly filled this role. The 5th/6th wideout ended up being Mike Strachan and Dezmon Patmon. Keke Coutee could factor in from the practice squad.
51. Is a new defensive coordinator/system what Ben Banogu needs? Banogu certainly thinks a coaching change is going to serve him well. Banogu was pretty consistently running with the second team, although his production wasn’t as frequent as it was in past camps. Unless something really changes, Banogu is probably on the right side of the 53-man roster bubble.
52. Is there an undrafted free agent to make the team on defense? Yes, especially at linebacker. JoJo Domman was the early favorite for this award, and he secured that spot. Sterling Weatherford just missed a spot, with the Colts opting to trade for a special teams linebacker this week. CB-Dallis Flowers and S-Trevor Denbow were both thought to be potential 53-man roster guys, and both started on it. But Denbow’s stay was short lived as he’s now on IR, with the hope to return later in the season.
53. Will we see any changes to the return men? Isaiah Rodgers Sr. (kick returner) and Nyheim Hines (punt returner) look to be in line for continued return duties. Despite a growing role on offense, Hines still looks to be the team’s top punt returner.