Five areas of interest as Colts open OTA work

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Andrew Luck (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – This is as close to the real thing as it gets, until the real thing rolls around in late July.

This is the third phase of the NFL’s offseason program: organized team activities (OTAs).

With two weeks of strength and conditioning (Phase 1) followed by three weeks of on-field drills limited to positional work (Phase 2) behind them, the Indianapolis Colts on Monday embarked on the segment that offers general manager Chris Ballard, coach Chuck Pagano and the staff a truer sense of what they’ve got.

Contact still is not allowed during the four-week OTA period, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills are permitted. Receivers run routes against DBs, rush linebacker Jabaal Sheard works on his moves against tackles Anthony Castonzo and Le’Raven Clark, etc.

The OTA phase consists of 10 practices, and the Colts’ offseason work concludes with a mandatory minicamp June 13-15.

With their offseason work revved up, here’s a look at five areas of special interest:

Andrew Luck:

All eyes remain focused on the franchise’s most indispensible player until there’s no longer a reason. Just to get you caught up to speed, Luck underwent surgery in January to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. His rehab almost assuredly will force him to miss the next month of on-field work, and there’s no concrete timeline for when he’ll gain medical clearance.

It’s entirely possible we won’t see Luck throwing until camp opens in late July. Team activities cease June 15. And no one should be surprised if Luck opens camp on PUP as he completes his rehab.

Team officials remain optimistic Luck will be ready for the Sept. 10 season opener against the Rams, but they also insist they won’t risk Luck’s long-term health by accelerating the process.

The Colts are a legitimate playoff contender with Luck. Without him? Not so much.

Safety first:

We’ll stick with a health-related item. Safety appeared to be a relatively deep position when Darius Butler was re-signed and announced he was transitioning from cornerback to safety, and the Colts snatched Malik Hooker with the 15th overall pick in the April draft. They reinforced an area that already included Clayton Geathers and T.J. Green.

But last week we learned Geathers underwent offseason neck surgery, and there’s no timetable for his return. Not to be an alarmist, but neck surgery never is a good thing.

Geathers has been working with the team’s training staff, and maybe he’s ready for the start of the season. But his situation reminds us of the 2014 offseason. Delano Howell, a three-game starter in ’13, needed neck surgery and his status for the season was uncertain throughout the offseason work. When another young safety, Corey Lynch, was placed on IR in mid-June, the team decided to roll the dice and sign street free-agent Mike Adams prior to its June minicamp.

Taking a flier on Adams paid huge dividends, but Howell would never play again.

Defensive fits:

We can envision defensive coordinator Ted Monachino sitting at the dining room table with an assortment of puzzle pieces, trying to figure out which goes where. A busy offseason has completely reshaped his personnel and could lead to as many as eight new starters.

Monachino’s challenge is to determine how best to mix and match. At linebacker, Sheard is at “rush’’ and John Simon on the strong side. Inside? Good luck with that. The pending Battle Royale for starting spots includes Sean Spence, Jon Bostic, Anthony Walker, Edwin Jackson, Antonio Morrison and Luke Rhodes.

Up front, Kendall Langford should return at end after a knee injury snapped his ironman streak of 135 consecutive games last season. Elsewhere, “positional flexibility’’ rules with Johnathan Hankins (although a nose in the base), Henry Anderson, Hassan Ridgeway, Al Woods, Grover Stewart, Margus Hunt and T.Y. McGill.

When they run:

We’re probably going to hear how the Colts are going to monitor Frank Gore’s touches this season. You know, he’s 34 for cryin’ out loud. We’ll believe that when we see it. Gore is a freak, and will take every carry he can get as continues his methodical march up the NFL’s all-time rushing charts. He needs 620 yards to move ahead of LaDainian Tomlinson into the No. 5 spot and 1,037 to pass Curtis Martin at No. 4.

But while Gore gets his, how does his supporting cast shake out? Robert Turbin re-signed after excelling as a situational back last season and the Colts drafted Marlon Mack in the fourth round of the draft. Our money’s on Turbin remaining the short-yardage and goal-line option and Mack being given every opportunity to develop as Gore’s eventual successor.

Mack was ultra-productive at South Florida, cracking the 1,000-yard mark three straight seasons and finishing with a school-record 3,609 yards. He also offers breakaway speed that’s been missing in the Colts’ backfield. Of Mack’s 15 rushing TDs last season, six covered at least 43 yards.

Offensive line:

This will remain an area of interest – of concern – until it proves otherwise. Our attention moving forward is on Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark, and which players settle in as reliable backups.

Haeg will be allowed to grow at right guard after being the first rookie since Kyle Turley in 1998 to start at three different positions. While that type of versatility was impressive a year ago, it can only boost Haeg’s development to sit in one spot in Year 2. Clark was inactive eight games as a rookie, then started the final three games at right tackle.

With left tackle Anthony Castonzo, left guard Jack Mewhort and center Ryan Kelly set, position coach Joe Philbin must determine the supporting cast because injuries are going to crop up. Who’s this year’s Joe Reitz? Who’s capable of stepping in in the blink of an eye? Maybe it’s free-agent Brian Schwenke. Or Denzelle Good. Or rookie Zach Banner.