INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Sweat still was dripping off Anthony Walker, and breaths came a little more labored than normal.
The Indianapolis Colts’ second-year linebacker isn’t game ready, but is getting there after a preseason interrupted by a groin injury. He returned to a full practice Monday for the first time in nearly a month, and Sunday’s opener against the Cincinnati Bengals looms.
“It’s going to be a process to get back to that top spot. I already know that,’’ Walker said. “I have to go out there and earn it. That’ll come.’’
A 2017 fifth-round draft pick who started the final two games as a rookie, Walker opened preseason as the starting inside linebacker in coordinator Matt Eberflus’ new 4-3 scheme. However, he limped off the practice field at Grand Park on the fourth day of training camp with a groin injury.
While Walker mended, undrafted rookie Skai Moore stepped in.
As it turns out, Walker and Moore have a history. Walker attended Monsignor Pace in Miami. Moore attended Fort Lauderdale University High.
“Very close. He was about 15 minutes from me. Played at a rival high school,’’ Walker said with a smile. “We played each other a few times. They beat us in a game to go to state my sophomore year. If you ask him about that team, it was a loaded team; Division I (players) across the board.
“Definitely some good battles growing up. I’ve known Skai for a while.’’
Now, they’re spending quality time in the same meeting room. And it’s an inexperienced room.
Of the six linebackers on the roster, four are rookies: Moore, projected weak-side starter Darius Leonard, Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin. The other two – Walker and strong-side starter Najee Goode – share six career starts.
“I have two, Najee has four,’’ Walker said. “It’s very crazy. Nobody knows how we’re going to play. We’ll be able to come out and just fly around.’’
Eberflus repeatedly has mentioned the defense will be simple, aggressive, swarming.
“That’s what you want to do with young guys,’’ Walker said. “You don’t want them thinking too much, trying to do too much. You want to give them a simple assignment and let them go be disruptive.’’
Walker intends on being part of that, once he’s back in football shape.
“Mentally I’m not too far behind,’’ he said, “but definitely that conditioning . . . there’s no such thing as being in football shape when you’ve been out for a month.’’
Among players who did not practice during Monday’s light session were starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo (hamstring), backup tackle Denzelle Good (knee), starting running back Marlon Mack (hamstring) and Leonard (foot).
Teams are not obligated to provide injury/practice participation on Monday, and coach Frank Reich declined to address the Colts’ injury situation.
“We will have some injury updates for you guys on Wednesday,’’ he said.
As expected, the team placed second-round draft pick Tyquan Lewis on the injured reserve list with a toe injury. The plan is to monitor his progress and possibility activate him later in the season. Lewis is eligible to return to practice after six games and be added to the active roster after missing eight games.
The Colts filled Lewis’ roster spot by signing tight end Ryan Hewitt.
The 6-4, 255-pound Hewitt brings a blocking presence to a tight end room that includes Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron and Erik Swoope. He appeared in 60 games with 37 starts the past four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Hewitt has 22 receptions for 220 yards in his career.
The Colts also added four more players to their practice squad: center/guard Jamil Douglas, defensive end Carroll Phillips, linebacker Ahmad Thomas and defensive tackle Jihad Ward.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.