ANDERSON, Ind. – Consider it a training camp tradition shared by a segment of veteran players, and one that shines the light on a potential problem as the Indianapolis Colts embark on their season of redemption.
Listen to linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, 32 and in his 11th NFL season.
“This is always a great time to see the younger guys,’’ he said. “We’ll make bets on who do we think is going to make the team.
“You kind of see the first couple of days who flashes and who doesn’t. It’s a fun time.’’
It also can be a time of heightened anxiety.
The Colts’ roster features unquestioned star power: Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Robert Mathis, Vontae Davis, Frank Gore, Adam Vinatieri, Pat McAfee and a few others.
But top-to-bottom, is the supporting cast deep enough for the Colts to return to the postseason after falling short last year? More to the point, is it good enough? At wide receiver? At tight end? At running back? At safety?
The issue reared its head before the Colts took to the Anderson University practice field for the first time Wednesday afternoon.
Mike Adams was at his post at safety. But his projected sidekick, Clayton Geathers, looked on from a golf cart with his right foot in a boot. The 2015 fourth-round draft pick suffered an unspecified injury while working out on his own earlier this month.
“He’s doing well,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “He’s three weeks into it. He’ll be week-to-week.’’
Geathers’ rehabilitation means expanded reps for a few, including returnee Winston Guy, and an accelerated development for rookie T.J. Green.
“We took T.J in the second round for that very reason, just in case something happens,’’ Pagano said.
Trouble is, neither Green nor Guy finished practice. Green limped to the nearby trainer’s tent and at one point had his lower left calf wrapped in ice. Guy departed near the end of practice, one of four players who eventually gave in to the oppressive heat (temperatures in the upper-80s).
At one point in practice, cornerback Darius Butler was taking repetitions at free safety.
Depth? Proven depth?
It’s imperative Green’s situation isn’t serious. He needs the work, especially with Geather’s foot injury.
Green converted to safety from receiver for his final two seasons at Clemson. He’s clearly a work in progress, but the Colts were intrigued by his measurables.
“We can’t coach 6-2-and-change and 205 pounds,’’ Pagano said. “And he runs 4.34.’’
Yet Green is part of the unproven depth at safety. Adams has appeared in 175 regular-season games and started 102. The other six on the active roster share 66 games and seven starts. Three are rookies.
At receiver, Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett are an intriguing trio. But behind them are five rookies, a sixth player (Josh Stangby) who has yet to appear in an NFL game, a return specialist (Quan Bray) who has zero catches and a pair of veterans (Brian Tyms and Josh Boyce) with 16 catches between them.
“We’ve got three guys at wide receiver we know about,’’ Pagano said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys that have talent; can run; got height, weight, speed; can catch and do all the things they’ve got to do.
“But we’ve got to develop that talent. That’s what training camp is all about. We’ve got talent. We’ve got guys that are capable. They’re just unproven.’’
No one needs to remind Pagano of the value of depth, or how injuries at key positions can impact a season.
Remember 2015? Luck missed nine starts. Art Jones missed the entire season. Henry Anderson missed half of his rookie season.
The Colts had to rely on seven different starting offensive line combinations. There were three starting quarterbacks, five right guards.
By season’s end, 40 players had started at least one game and 72 appeared in at least one.
“Just learning from last year, you’d better have depth,’’ Pagano said. “That’s why we challenge the players and the coaching staff. Every man, regardless where you’re lining up right now, prepare as a starter.
“You never know when that opportunity is going to come. When it does, you go out there . . . and play at a level and (hope) there’s not a drop-off that’s too significant.’’