WESTFIELD, Ind. – It ended indoors and with rain absolutely saturating the Grand Park Sports Campus practice fields.
But while Training Camp 2021 buzzed past in what seemed like the blink of an eye, it didn’t unfold quietly for the Indianapolis Colts.
There as the head coach missing the first week with a “breakthrough’’ positive COVID-19 test and his defensive coordinator following his lead a short time later, the Pro Bowl center hyperextending his left elbow and intent on determining which running back messed up said elbow, foot surgeries on consecutive days that sidelined the franchise quarterback and all-world guard for that wide-ranging 5-12-week rehab timeline, two spirited co-joint practices with the Carolina Panthers and . . .
Well, you get the idea.
Instead of dwelling on the last month at Grand Park, let’s consider our observations from those four weeks.
Three weeks to the day after undergoing surgery on his left foot, Carson Wentz was back at work. He was limited to individual and 7-on-7 sessions this week, but his daily workload was heavy, and his routine did everything possible to test the readiness of the foot. The next step, which probably comes next week, is Wentz being thrown into team activities. The team didn’t want to push that phase of his rehab for fear of having an offensive or defensive lineman accidentally step on his foot.
Reich is stopping short of announcing Wentz as his starter for the Sept. 12 opener against the Seattle Seahawks, but that’s the unspoken expectation within the organization.
And let’s not soften things too much. The vibes at practice have just been different since Wentz returned and Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger took a step back. Decision-making was quicker, passes sharper, more on target. Yes, there were hiccups: five interceptions in roughly 105 pass attempts. But the separation between Wentz, even after missing two weeks, and Eason and Ehlinger was immense.
“Feel very good about where he’s at,’’ Reich said.
Quarterbacks Part II
We’re not going to take much of your time on this one. But if the situation presents itself, Reich and Chris Ballard must give serious consideration to adding a veteran quarterback when cuts are made.
At some point, Eason and/or Ehlinger might be ready for backup chores, even elevate himself into starter’s territory. But neither showed they’re ready. Not yet.
We fully expect Wentz to be under center against the Seahawks, but there still is a history of injury that shouldn’t be ignored. This roster is ready to compete for something this season.
That in mind, it’s prudent to address the readiness of the quarterback depth in the same manner as the offensive line, wideouts, etc.
We’re not lobbying for anyone in particular. Just lobbying for someone with a track record . . . just in case.
At some point, Eric Fisher will be the guy. Until then, Julién Davenport is the presumptive bridge. The only question: how long does that bridge need to be?
Fisher remains in rehab mode from the torn Achilles suffered in late January but by all accounts is making steady, perhaps even encouraging progress.
“I think Eric is doing well,’’ Reich said. “I’m just relying on the doctors . . . to pull the trigger. We’ve all seen him out there doing some work, and he looks good.
“It’s just taking that last step. As we all know, there’s an intensity level that comes from playing that’s just hard to match.’’
We should get a strong indication of how far Fisher’s rehab has advanced when rosters are cut to 53 on Tuesday. If the team is confident he’ll be ready sooner rather than later, it likely moves him from the physically unable to perform list to the active roster, then places him on IR with the idea he’ll only miss three games. If the Colts leave him on the 53, it would be with idea he won’t miss three games.
As much as the team wants – needs – Fisher at left tackle, they won’t push things considering he’s dealing with an Achilles.
It appeared Sam Tevi or Will Holden might be the frontrunner as the fill-in at left tackle, but Davenport has seized that role.
Don’t take our word for it, even though Davenport had an uneventful outing last Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings, which is a good thing when it comes to left tackles.
“I think Julién has established himself there at the left tackle position,’’ Reich said.
They’re still banking on potential, not productivity, but training camp has been encouraging.
Kwity Paye appears to be the real deal, and that was driven home by the 21st overall pick in the April draft responding to his first NFL exposure by sacking Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on one of his 16 snaps last Saturday. He’s been a daily disruptive force at Grand Park.
We all focused on the make-or-break camp awaiting Ben Banogu, and he’s elevated his game to another level. He’s flashed virtually every day in practice. Against the Vikings, he was credited with just two tackles, one tackle for a loss and one quarterback hit but was in the backfield all evening. At the very least, Banogu appears to be a viable presence in the pass-rush rotation.
Injuries have limited the practice time of Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay, but each has made his mark when available.
Considering the type of attention and impact All-Pro tackle DeForest Buckner will have on the interior, the edge rushers should have ample one-on-one opportunities.
Color us bullish on the group.
Wide receivers: No position has more depth – OK, we’ll give you running back – which means no position figures to be a bigger headache for Reich and Chris Ballard next Tuesday.
We’re expecting the Colts to carry six on the 53-player roster, and four spots belong to T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal and Parris Campbell. It seems as if three players – Dez Patmon, rookie Mike Strachan and Ashton Dulin – are vying for the final two spots.
Again, it’s a good problem to have. We’ve talked ourselves into Indy keeping Patmon and Strachan on the 53 and waiving Dulin, a special teams standout, with the intention of signing him to the 16-player practice squad and having him available on game day.
“It’s going to be tough,’’ Reich said, “and we feel very confident in our receiver group. We have a lot of guys that can make plays, that we feel good about. A lot of things factor into it, including special teams, but then also the role that they play . . . certain guys you use in different ways.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.