INDIANAPOLIS – If you are looking for a quarterback specific update on that battle, head here.
This piece will focus on the half dozen other position battles we previewed leading into camp.
Just a reminder that the Colts have completed 5 of their 13 practices at Grand Park, with only one full-padded session so far. So a lot of practice time, including 3 joint practices. Plus, you have 3 preseason games coming in August.
For now though, here’s an update on those 6 position battles:
1. 3rd Running BackSource:Getty
Hell with the 3rd running back, what about the starter? This whole competition has been thrown a massive curveball with the Jonathan Taylor fiasco. But a name who keeps on popping up in the 3rd down/receiving role is rookie Evan Hull. If Zack Moss, who is in jeopardy of missing the start of the season is the new top running back (assuming Taylor is steadfast about wanting to be traded) then either Hull or Deon Jackson would be the likely candidate for that 3rd down usage. One would have to think the Colts need to pursue some veteran free agent, with first and second-down background to alleviate some of the uncertainty in that running back room right now.
2. Right GuardSource:Getty
This continues to be Will Fries’ job to lose, and we will see if it ever becomes much of a competition at all. We should mention, there’s been just one practice in full pads, so realer trench evaluations should have many more reps coming (plus those 3 preseason games and 3 joint practice sessions). In the second unit, you have Danny Pinter and Wesley French getting some right guard looks. On Monday, undrafted free agent Emil Ekiyor Jr. got his first extended look at right guard with the 2nd unit, but then he missed Tuesday’s practice with an undisclosed injury. Through 5 practices, every single starting rep has had the same offensive line grouping: LT-Bernhard Raimann, LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Ryan Kelly, RG-Will Fries, RT-Braden Smith.
3. Tight End RepsSource:Getty
The Colts have mixed and matched a lot with their tight ends early in camp. Early on, the rotation seems to be focused on a quartet of guys: Mo Alie-Cox, Jelani Woods, Drew Ogletree and Kylen Granson. Fifth round pick Will Mallory (foot) made his camp debut on Monday and he’s someone who flashed back during rookie minicamp. Woods got banged up on Monday, and didn’t practice Tuesday, so that could impact his practice time moving forward. This was one of the two position battles Chris Ballard pointed to at the start of camp, and it’s difficult to see much separation so far.
4. EJ Speed’s RoleSource:Getty
The surprising workload for Shaquille Leonard to start camp has meant Speed is the 3rd linebacker, starting in the base package. Again, Leonard’s health/return has a massive impact on just how much Speed will play in 2023. Would a healthy Leonard, which obviously is still a ways away from being a definite, keep Speed relegated to that 3rd LB role, almost exclusively playing in that base personnel grouping? So far, Leonard has yet to take part in 11-on-11 reps with shoulder pads on.
5. Cornerback Playing TimeSource:Getty
Kenny Moore is an obvious starter. Dallis Flowers continues to look like one, too. That 3rd cornerback spot though is starting to see a name emerge. It’s Darrell Baker Jr., with the rookies at corner on the sideline too much. Outside of Flowers cementing himself, Baker Jr. has easily done the most in trying to earn playing time. Unless the rookie guys flip the script whenever they get on the field, Baker looks like the favorite for that third cornerback/nickel package starting role. Continued availability issues for rookies JuJu Brents (yet to participate in an NFL practice) and Darius Rush (has missed ample time due to hamstring and shoulder issues) has greatly helped Baker Jr. take the early lead in trying to secure a spot in that nickel package. Brents needs to get healthy soon if he wants to make enough of an impression on the staff. Seventh-round pick Jaylon Jones continues to make some nice plays.
6. Strong SafetySource:Getty
For a second straight year, an injury has given Nick Cross a terrific opportunity. This year it’s a hamstring injury to Julian Blackmon. Now, the staff is very high on Blackmon and he was the starter at strong safety this spring. But Blackmon being sidelined to start camp, which isn’t supposed to linger much longer, has meant Cross is starting next to Rodney Thomas II. Will Cross again leave a strong of impression, this time though with his mental acumen, to make the coaching staff think twice about handing Blackmon the starting job back?