INDIANAPOLIS –.Before the draft fireworks arrive next week, the Colts are beginning to ramp up their offseason program.
The Colts are still in Phase One this week, which focuses mainly on strength and conditioning. They’ll progress to on-field activities in next week, holding an early minicamp due to the fact they have a first-year head coach.
On Wednesday, the Colts held their weekly media availability, with the coordinators meeting the media, along with Shaquille Leonard, Jonathan Taylor and Ryan Kelly
What did we learn from those Colts on Wednesday?
- “Will I ever be back to 5-3? Will I ever get back to being The Maniac?” Those thoughts were all too common for Shaquille Leonard last year. Leonard said on Wednesday he feels better than he did all of last year, but is still a “long ways away” from doing normal on-field activities. Leonard said he has more power in his rehabbed calf, but is “not doing too much running” right now. For what it’s worth, Leonard was empathic in saying retirement never crossed his mind throughout this ordeal, which included back surgeries last June and November. Leonard admitted that he felt he looked “slow” in practice and in limited game action (74 total defensive snaps) and the season was grueling on him mentally. Leonard continues to be upbeat on getting back to his normal self, but this rehab is still not anywhere close to the finish line, with 4 and a half months to go until the season opens. Will Leonard be fully cleared for the first day of training camp at Grand Park in late July?
- Gus Bradley is a fan of this cornerback draft class, which is an area of definite need for the Colts in 2023. Bradley, who is back for his second year as Colts defensive coordinator, pointed to seeking out ‘tall, long corners with a lot of length and short-area quickness’ as something he covets in a cornerback. Bradley sees a good amount of those types of guys in this 2023 corner group. This is a clear draft need for the Colts.
- The system isn’t changing on defense, but there’s some hope for E.J. Speed in his second year with Gus Bradley. On Wednesday, Bradley talked about Speed as a guy who could push for more of a consistent defensive role in 2023: “We have to find a way to try and get him on the field more.” The exact role for Speed will certainly have some more impact depending on the health of Shaquille Leonard. It’ll be interesting to monitor Speed in training camp and how he fits into the rotation, alongside Leonard and Zaire Franklin.
- Rookie safety Nick Cross had one of the more interesting rookie years. At 20 years old, Cross was one of the youngest draft picks in entire NFL last year, and actually earned a starting spot in the season opener. But after getting benched mid-way through Week 2 (for veteran Rodney McLeod), Cross played a total of 6 defensive snaps in the final 15 games. With McLeod, who was a tremendous communicator, still a free agent, Cross is going to have a chance to compete for some major playing time with Rodney Thomas II and Julian Blackmon. “It’s just playing fast on the field,” Bradley said of where Cross needs to improve. “That part we didn’t see on the field in the beginning of the year. We felt he was thinking a lot and not reacting. It slowed him down a lot.” Bradley did feel Cross got more confident as the year moved along, so this will be something to watch as the starting safety positions play out in camp.
- Jonathan Taylor called his ankle surgery (a rare occurrence for his durable self) a “perfect success.” He’s still not doing the normal spring stuff he would be, but says he’s feeling well. Taylor doesn’t believe any potential off-season contract discussions will be a distraction for him. He’s under contract for one more year, although an extension is quite possible this offseason.
- Ryan Kelly heard the trade rumors, but nothing substantive enough to hear from his agent, or think there was real traction. Kelly, who turns 30 next month, is the longest tenured Colt, with two years left on his contract. Kelly said he feels miscommunication was the biggest offensive line issue last season. Having said that though, it’s fair to say Kelly falls into the group Chris Ballard labeled at the end of the year as needing “our best players to play like the best players we are.” So far, the Colts are maintaining their offensive line personnel. It was a heavy zone focus for the Colts offensive line blocking wise in the past, and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said they’ll base that blocking decision around the personnel up front. One thing to note on Kelly, if/when the Colts turn to a rookie quarterback, this will be the first time he’s worked with a QB vastly younger than him.
- Was Ryan Kelly ready for a break after the end of the season. “With the chaos from last year, I wanted to distance myself from football as far away as possible,” Kelly said of his mindset right at the end of the season. Guys definitely feel refreshed now back in the building with a clean slate, but last season was taxing in many obvious ways.
- How many times has offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter been asked, ‘Who are you guys going to draft?’ by friends and colleague this offseason? “73, 74,” the offensive coordinator offered up on Wednesday. While that seems a bit low, Cooter has played a part in this quarterback evaluation. He was part of the Colts contingent who went around the country a few weeks back to work out the top quarterbacks.
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