INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The clock is ticking, as it invariably does.
We’re two months away from the start of training camps opening across the NFL landscape and approximately 100 days away from the Indianapolis Colts’ regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Listen to any coach and he’ll insist this is when the foundation is laid for what’s to come in September, October and beyond. Schemes are installed, some players are moved around to determine their best fit within those schemes and preliminary opinions are formed on which young players might creep up the depth chart and challenge for a spot on the 53-man roster.
That in mind, it’s impossible not to consider who’s missing out – falling behind? – as the Colts wade into the second week of the organized team activities phase of their offseason work.
The list of players missing the offseason work entirely, or portions of it, while dealing with injuries or surgery from last season isn’t necessarily long when compared with other teams. With the Colts, it’s quality over quantity.
Among players not participating Wednesday: quarterback Andrew Luck, safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers, running back Marlon Mack, rookie linebacker Darius Leonard, rookie defensive end Kemoko Turay, tight end Erik Swoope, guard Jeremy Vujnovich, center Deyshawn Bond and wideout Krishawn Hogan.
Cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston went through positional drills, but saw limited work thereafter.
“I’m a coach,’’ Frank Reich said. “We coach the guys out on the field. The guys out on the field are doing a great job in what they’re doing to get ready. They’re learning the systems.
“I learned a long time ago players know their bodies better than anybody. I trust the players. You trust the doctors, and they’ll be out on the field as soon as they can.’’
Luck’s absence from practice caught the media’s eye. Last week, he participated in the early portion of Wednesday’s practice – working on handoffs with the running backs, honing his footwork on drop-backs – before exiting the field and getting addition work with the training staff.
This week, the rehab staff adjusted Luck’s routine. Whatever work he handled – he still hasn’t advanced to throwing a regulation football – was done away from the rest of the team.
“We look at every aspect of what we do and are we getting the most out of every player, making the most out of every minute?’’ Reich said. “We just thought we’d shuffle a few things around in his schedule just to maybe get the most out of the allotted time that we have.
“Everything is on course and in schedule . . . but really just looking at how do we keep gearing up for the season and making sure we’re hitting every mark we want to hit. Same routine really, just a shifting.’’
Reich added the Colts are “just encouraged by everything we see.’’
Luck’s shadow looms large, even when he’s not on the practice field. Even so, we shouldn’t casually dismiss other Colts who are missing invaluable time. A look at some of the more prominent absentees:
- Hooker: the 2017 first-round draft pick is on the mend after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee suffered Oct. 22 against Jacksonville. He recently posted a video featuring him running and cutting, but no one should be surprised if Hooker opens training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. It’s hardly a lock he’s ready for the Sept. 9 opener against Cincinnati. This marks the second offseason Hooker has missed significant practice time. He was in rehab mode all of last offseason and limited at the start of his rookie camp after undergoing hip/groin surgery following his final season at Ohio State.
- Mack: he should be the front-runner to succeed Frank Gore as the feature back – as much as this backs-by-committee approach will allow for a feature back – but Mack is recovering from labrum surgery and probably won’t hit the field until camp.
“He’s going to be a little bit farther behind than these other guys as far as a change of direction, the foot speed . . . it’s going to be tough,’’ position coach Tom Rathman said.
- Geathers: neck surgery forced him to miss the first 10 games last season, but he returned to appear in five of the final six with one start. He wasn’t the physical Geathers of old, but just getting back on the field was a major accomplishment. Reich has offered no reason for Geathers being held out of practice.
- Vujnovich: he looked on from the sideline Wednesday and the team hasn’t revealed why last season’s starting left guard – 16 starts, zero missed snaps – isn’t practicing. Teams always err on the side of caution when dealing with injury/surgery rehab during offseason work, but while an injured player mends, another gets his reps. It figures to be tight competition for one of the nine or 10 offensive line roster spots come September.
- Swoope: there’s room on the tight end depth chart for the former University of Miami power forward, but only if he gets on the field and stays there. Swoope missed all of last season with a knee injury. His hoops-to-football story is a great one, but at some point the focus shifts to someone else.
- Leonard: the second-round pick is expected to challenge for a starting linebacker spot, so every missed practice rep impedes his development. He might still be recovering from a hamstring injury.
“It hurts missing reps for a young guy, but you just can’t push it. You’ve still got to be smart about it,’’ Reich said. “You do everything you can do in the classroom and meetings and walk-throughs and whatever else you can do, but it does help to get those reps.’’
The ultimate objective is for the vast majority of the rehabbing players to be in full-go mode when training camp opens the fourth week of July.
“(As) coaches, we don’t panic. We don’t get concerned,’’ Reich insisted. “As far as guys go, we know this is a rough game. People go through injuries, the process of getting better.
“It’s just a normal course of business for us.’’