WESTFIELD – Chalk up one for the defense.
The exclamation mark for the longest – roughly two hours – and arguably most spirited practice since training camp opened last week was a pair of two-minute drills to close Thursday’s session.
The defense dominated each and the Indianapolis Colts’ playmakers were front and center.
On the first series, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue blew through Matt Ryan’s protection for what would have been a third-down sack; quarterbacks remain untouchable in practice.
On the next series, Ryan targeted rookie wideout Alec Pierce, but cornerback Stephon Gilmore offered tight, aggressive coverage and batted away Ryan’s pass. That’s been one of camp’s on-going storylines: Pierce vs. Gilmore.
Also on that drive, tackle DeForest Buckner got immediate penetration and smothered Nyheim Hines for a loss. Buckner’s workload has increased after dealing with a minor back issue early in camp.
“The defense looked really good,’’ conceded offensive coordinator Marcus Brady. “They were getting pressure on the quarterback. A lot of good film for us to coach off of and get better physically, getting the techniques.
“We’re actually getting a lot of live reps of full-speed pass rush, and you can feel it. The defense is going a great job of getting after us. It’s a chance for us to continue to compete and get better.’’
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has been impressed with his pass rush, but admitted, “we’re always going to ask more of them, right?
“But I thought there were some good rushes. We’re able to see it in one-on-one, but . . . a two-minute thing that we had where it’s play-after-play, that mentality to have. So, we’re building it. It’s a work in progress.
“You see flashes. Like we said, Buckner, you see his flashes, Yannick I thought had some flashes, Kwity (Paye). We just need to continue to develop that.’’
On each two-minute drive, the situation consisted of the offense needing three points to tie the score. It settled for a 50-yard field goal, with Rodrigo Blankenship first splitting the uprights and then Jake Verity matching him.
The two kickers are 5-for-5 thus far in camp.
Granson, Ogletree more involved
The tight ends are beginning to step up.
Kylen Granson enjoyed another productive day, and rookie Drew Ogletree joined him. Ogletree’s work with the starting offense was the result of veteran Mo Alie-Cox seeing less work after tweaking his knee in Saturday night’s practice.
Ogletree’s highlight came during 7-on-7 red-zone work. The 6th-round draft pick found a seam in the middle of the end zone, turned and made a one-handed catch of a Ryan pass. He added two more receptions from Ryan in team drills.
“You can see he’s making play after play,’’ Brady said. “Just kind of rotating the guys, seeing what they can do.’’
Ogletree spent a portion of his post-practice meeting with the media discussing his nifty catch.
“I kind of saw the linebackers split, and once I saw that, I knew I was going to get the ball,’’ he said. “I knew Matt was going to put it up high. I didn’t know what side he was going to throw it on. I just threw my hand up and made a play.’’
A lot of attention has been given to the quick pace of the Ryan-led offense.
But let’s not overlook the ball security.
Through six practices, Ryan is 50-of-63 in team drills. He’s thrown six touchdowns and zero interceptions. The only two interceptions of camp have occurred in 7-on-7 work.
“The quarterbacks are doing a great job,’’ Brady said, adding position coach Scott Milanovich “is going a great job. He is making it competitive-like trying to limit those.
“Obviously there are consequences if they do; fun consequences. But just to get them competitive and being protective of the ball and making good decisions . . . check it down. We don’t have to force anything.’’
Good coverage, better catch
Sometimes, good coverage isn’t enough. Zaire Franklin found that to be true in a drill pitting linebackers against running backs.
Paired against Jonathan Taylor, Franklin offered tight coverage as Taylor slashed to the right side. Rookie Jack Coan’s pass was in a place where only Taylor could catch it, and he did.
As Taylor trotted away, the ball securely in his hands, Franklin stood and shook his head in disbelief. Taylor came back and slapped hands with his discouraged teammate.
Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly missed a few plays after coming up a little lame during a portion of Thursday’s practice, and that required some juggling on the offensive line.
Danny Pinter, the projected starting right guard, moved to center with Jason Spriggs stepping in at right guard.
Kelly returned for the final portion of practice.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.