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Colts camp observations start, end with Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck at training camp

WESTFIELD, Ind. – That’s a wrap. After 16 practices and unceasing intrigue over a certain quarterback’s health/availability, the Indianapolis Colts’ second summer at Grand Park Sports Campus came to an end Thursday afternoon.

It opened with through-the-roof hype, which was rooted in a much stronger roster and Andrew Luck’s expected participation, and stalled when the team shut down its $140 million quarterback after three training camp practices, each as a limited participant.

It featured the old (Adam Vinatieri), the young (nine draft picks), the new (Justin Houston, Devin Funchess, etc.) and the familiar (21 of 22 returning starters, including an intact offensive line).

Now, the preseason shifts from Grand Park to the team’s Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center on West 56th Street in Indy.

Before moving forward, here are some observations from the past month.

What’s up with Luck?

Good question. Here are two salient comments from Luck.

July 25: “It was fun getting out here. It was fun to start working with Funchess. It was fun to see Jack Doyle back and running around. Always good to be back at camp.’’

July 30: “Yeah, you can say setback. I like to view it (as) not where I want to be. I did not improve feeling-wise, pain-wise.’’

In the span of six days, everything changed. After practicing three times in the first four days on a limited basis, Luck felt something.

“It’s like, ‘I feel something is going to yank, something is going to pull trying to change direction aggressively,’’ he said. “That is something that you need to do to play football, you know? And I’m not there yet . . . that is where my focus is right now physically.’’

The Colts had been treating and strengthening Luck’s strained left calf that kept him out of their offseason work. After additional scans and examination, it’s been determined the pain that’s impeded his progress is rooted in the front of his ankle.

“It’s high ankle-ish,’’ Chris Ballard said.

It’s still keeping Luck out of practice, and there’s no indication when he might rejoin his teammates. Frank Reich wants to make a decision on his starter for the Sept. 8 opener against the Los Angeles Chargers – Luck or Jacoby Brissett? – after the third preseason game. That means the target date for Luck to return to practice, and be practicing at full speed, is Aug. 26, two days after the third preseason game with the Chicago Bears.

“Look, Andrew will even tell you he needs to get a certain amount of practice in,’’ Ballard said. “Andrew is pretty special as a player (but) all players need reps.

“We’ve got three-and-a-half weeks. We’ll tell you when we think the shift’s going to happen, if that happens.’’

We’re waiting.

Is Brissett ready?

He’d better be. That’s the only sensible approach considering the uncertainty with Luck’s calf/ankle. There’s every chance Luck gets to the point he’s able to play with the lingering pain, but there’s also every chance his rehab spills into September and forces him to miss a few games.

Brissett has been uneven during camp. He’s got the big arm, but accuracy has been, literally, hit and miss.

Internally, the Colts believe in their backup. Reich has been impressed with Brissett’s “mastery of our protection schemes.’’ He also has seen him progress as a passer.

“Just generally speaking, getting the ball out quick with rhythm, with timing,’’ he said. “Jacoby has got that big arm, he can get the ball down the field. But we still (are) always working for rhythm and timing in the pass game and then still taking advantage of his big arm when we can.’’

How about the rookie?

Everyone is convinced – and with good reason – Luck will be able to find his “A” game in short order, once he’s able to get on the field and practice day after day after day, that is. The fact he missed the final 12 camp practices will quickly be forgotten.

The same can’t be said for wideout Parris Campbell. The second-round draft pick last practiced the same day as his QB: July 28. He generated a couple of highlight plays July 25, but also strained his right hamstring. Campbell was close to returning this week, but suffered a setback in his rehab.

Ballard, Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni have talked openly of finding different ways of incorporating the lightning-quick Campbell into the offense, and we saw signs of that during the offseason work.

That still might happen, but Campbell’s extended absence most certainly will force everyone to adjust. Initially he might be limited to playing out of the slot.

“This does put him behind,’’ Reich said. “I mean just pure reps. You’re a rookie, you need the reps. It will definitely limit him.

“So rather than having eight plays designed for him, it might be three plays designed for him. Rather than play him 40 plays in a game, maybe he gets 10 or 15 plays a game and then he gradually builds from there.’’

How about the other rookies?

Ballard and his personnel staff mined one of the best drafts in recent memory in 2018. Remember first-team All-Pros Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson? It appears they’ve come up with a pretty decent encore.

Even with Campbell’s situation, the 2019 draft class has been impossible to miss. Corner Rock Ya-Sin has provided frequent highlights, led by his absolute theft of a pick-6 out of Funchess’ hands. It’s clear the coaching staff must find ways to get him on the field in sub packages. Defensive end Ben Banogu missed about a week with a hamstring injury, but is back and flashed his pass-rush potential in the joint work with the Browns.

Linebackers Bobby Okereke and E.J. Speed have made camp-long impacts. There’s buzz that Okereke is pushing Anthony Walker for the starting MIKE spot, but we’re not on board with that. Walker has done nothing to lose the position. We’re in favor of moving Okereke to SAM in the base since the Colts are in their 4-3 base so seldom.

Also, Khari Willis belongs. Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers are the no-doubt starters, but as is the case with Ya-Sin, the coaching staff is going to have to be creative and find ways to utilize Willis.

On the mend

It’s been encouraging to see a handful of players who dealt with injury/rehab during the offseason respond well to the rigors of camp. That includes tight end Jack Doyle (hip/kidney), wideout Deon Cain (knee) and Eric Ebron (groin).

Doyle practiced early, then missed a few days with an oblique injury. That no longer is an issue, and he’s back to being that security-blanket receiver over the middle for the QBs.

Cain’s progress is truly encouraging. He’s about one year removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL sustained in last year’s preseason opener, but is quickly rounding into form.

One issue that arose during camp involve Jabaal Sheard. The veteran defensive end experienced swelling in one of his knees after the first practice, and a procedure was required to address it. It’s uncertain if Sheard will be available for the opener.

Difficult numbers game

The date to keep in mind is Aug. 31. That’s when camp rosters of 90 must be pared to 53. In the past, that hasn’t been a problem for the Colts. Too often, the issue was stopping at 53.

Now, Ballard and Reich should face some dicey areas. The two that jump out are receiver and cornerback.

We won’t be surprised if the Colts keep six receivers; there’s that much talent. In our mind, T.Y. Hilton, Funchess, Campbell and Cain are locks. Reece Fountain has taken quantum leaps the past few weeks, but he did suffer what appeared to be a significant injury to his leg and was taken off the field on a cart during practice Thursday. It’s easy to dismiss Chester Rogers and Zach Pascal, but each has been solid. Not spectacular, but solid. Marian University and Warren Central H.S. product Krishawn Hogan is having a strong camp, but it’s hard to find a spot for him.

There’s similar depth/quality at corner led by Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore II, Quincy Wilson, Ya-Sin.

In closing, there’s T.Y.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention T.Y. Hilton. He’s been the best player on the field, offense or defense.

No elaboration needed. We just didn’t want to ignore the obvious.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Bluezone Podcast:

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