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A Day at Colts Training Camp

After leaving my Lafayette apartment, getting stuck in line for gas, hitting two separate construction zones, discovering that parking rates had doubled, and having temperatures over 85 degrees at 9:00 in the morning, you’d think that my day was going poorly.  That’s what I thought at the time, but I had a bright spot that erased all of those negatives.  I, Jacob Crocker, found myself standing on the edge of Anderson University, just a short walk from the Colt’s Training Camp, and my first good look at the 2010 Colts.

Whether it was my lack of belief in superstitions, or just my overwhelming joy to see the Colts in action, I was determined to not let this Friday the 13th turn horribly sour on me.  I was there to review how the team was coming together, and see who was having a good showing, and even the start to my day wasn’t going to dampen my spirits.

What follows from here is my story.  It tells how the camp was, the kind of people who were there, and the atmosphere during practice (heads up, it was balmy).  Be prepared, though, because this is by no means a short tale (I wasn’t going to pay another parking fee after they doubled the price!).  Luckily, the downtime allowed me to get acquainted with fans from near and far (literally), and further spice up the day.  So without further ado, here is the story of my day at the Colts Training Camp…

Friday Morning (9:10)

After a little sticker shock for having to scrounge an extra $5 to pay the increased parking fee of $10 at all lots, I got everything gathered for a full day of sun, note-taking, picture-taking, and some fun.  As luck would have it, I ended up parked next to an older man who happened to be a local and I got to walk and talk with him for a while.

He has been a fan of the Colts for years it turns out, He had even attended some of the first Training Camps at Anderson.  His goal for the summer is to secure autographs from every player on the team (which he has actually nearly accomplished).  Aside from missing the first day, he has been to every training camp practice, and has been able to snag Peyton Manning’s “John Hancock,” three times over the past two weeks!

As we headed towards the grandstand, my new friend and I said our goodbyes as he headed off to stalk the signing booth to potentially score some previously elusive autographs.  I looked out over the stadium, and realized I should have arrived about 30 minutes earlier (mental note for next time) because the far-side bleachers were completely packed, meaning that taking pictures was going to prove difficult.  To top that off, the whole of the lower tier on the main grandstand was pretty much solid, and the upper tier was starting to fill too!

I decided that one seat was going to be as good an any other, so I headed over to the far side to get pictures.  I figured once the practice got past the stretches, I probably wouldn’t get a chance pay attention to the whole field AND get quality pictures.

Brody Eldridge stretching out his legs prior to morning TC | Jacob Crocker

As it turned out, I did end up getting distracted once practice actually started.  I happened to meet the founder of Coltzilla, Brett Mock, and got to have a nice conversation with him and his lovely friend Kelly Hinojosa (who had a better camera, and probably better pictures than I could have taken).  She happened to share the ultra infatuation with Collie that a number of female Colts fans have found themselves stricken with, which is not a bad thing in my opinion.

Anyway, once warm-ups were wrapped up, the team split into offensive and defensive units having a little pep talk, or group drill.  Once this meeting wrapped up 10 minutes later, the groups started two-minute drills.  This ended up being the most surreal experience, because they ran all the plays at half speed, checking routes, doing a little coverage checking, etc. But then as soon as the “play” went dead, they went into overdrive and would act like they hadn’t just spent 20 seconds leisurely strolling around on a slant route.

In this morning practice, Sanders participated in about 80% of the snaps, but the defensive line quickly was pulled out and replaced with the second team.  While some of the first team defensive line did rotate back in, Freeney stayed out, sitting on a golf cart for the remaining hour of practice.

Eventually, Manning took Painter and the first team receivers to the far side of the field and started doing route drills.  This was the last time I saw Garçon actually doing anything, but they’d line up, and all four would run their designated routes.

While this was going on in the backfield, Hiller and Brandstater were going through the motions about 20 yards from the goal line.  They were utilizing a number of the second team receivers (James and Smith) as well as the second team tight ends (Tamme and Cloherty).  Hiller and Brandstater got about 15 minutes of uninterrupted time going through slow motion plays as well as getting used to lining up, calling plays, and working with receivers and running backs.

The single most confusing play occurred while Hiller was taking the lead at QB.  Tamme lined up wide right, with Eldridge and Robinson playing the left and right TE spots respectively.  Hart and Addai lined up in the backfield in a split back formation.  Now so far, I know this doesn’t sound like a very odd formation, but here is the kicker…  Hiller lined up wide right!  We ran a wildcat play with 3 TEs, 2 RBs, and our QB as a receiver, with our second team offensive line!  Hart took the snap and faked a hand off to Addai, and threw a pass to Tamme.  Luckily this play was in slow motion and no one was rushing or covering because aside from the audacity of how they were lined up, I could just see either a sack or stuff being delivered if they’d played at full speed.  This was mostly due to the fact Sanders came up to the LB area and looked particularly hungry.  Also, we had our full first team defense in against our second and third team offense.

Toward the final 30 minutes of the morning practice, Manning called off his personal workout with the receivers, and started working with Hiller and Brandstater before finally letting Painter go to have 10 minutes or so working with just about every combination of offensive and defensive personnel possible.

Lunch time (11:30)

This basically signaled the end to the morning practice, and as hundreds of people began streaming out of the stands, I set up for the long haul.  After saying goodbye to Brett and Kelly I broke out the SPF-50, another bottle of high quality H-2-O, and prepared for a four hour wait until the next practice.  At about that time, though, Daniel Muir and Clint Session trotted out onto the field with personal trainers.  Perfect time to take pictures!

Clint Session working out after practice with trainers | Jacob Crocker

Interestingly, about the time I grew bored with taking long-range pictures of Muir and Session, Coach Caldwell decided to make an appearance and sign autographs along the fence line.  Now, while I’d love to get autographs, I prefer pictures, so Caldwell got to be the subject of about a dozen.  Now, I know what you are thinking, but no, I wasn’t stalking him, he was just wearing a hat.  That hat may help him see, but it really kills my ability to take good pictures of his face!  Here is the best one though.

Coach Caldwell attentively listening to an explanation of why he was having to sign something for a pair of ladies for an 8th time | Jacob Crocker

So now that Coach Caldwell had moved on, and Session and Muir had left the field, I tried to situate myself in a shady spot.  I sat down, got all my notes and writing tablet out, and got my first paragraph or two written when I hear, “You’ve gotta leave.”  It seems that Anderson closes down the stadium during the down time.  Despite my initial annoyance at having to pack up for a third time, there was a silver lining.  I got to refill my water from the free flowing cold fountain.  I got kicked out to the shady park nearby, which proved to be a blessing as the sun had become oppressive over the last hour or two.  The wind even started picking up, cooling the ambient temperature in the shade.

As it turned out, I got a couple of hours to relax, read the paper, write up the rest of the morning practice overview, and get to be VERY acquainted with a pair of stunning Colts fans from Iowa that had come down for the weekend to support their favorite Hawkeyes.  Oh if only I hadn’t hit it off with the married one!  Then again, you do have to question the rationale of someone wearing heels to an all day training camp.

Anyway, we got to talk for an hour while a line of over a thousand people piled up down the sidewalk before we were allowed back into the stadium and were led over to the practice field.  We (the hot girls and I) got some prime seats right by the VIP stands where we were hoping players would gravitate after practice.

View of the crowd from my spot just outside the VIP stands | Jacob Crocker

I ended up getting wedged between the ladies from Iowa and a trio of elderly couples.  Being the most knowledgeable concerning the Colts, I ended up holding a Q&A session.  This really helped the time pass, as curious fans asked questions about the current team, injuries and the rehab of players like Saturday, Gonzo, and Sanders.  Things became slightly awkward when all three female halves of the elderly couples joined forces with the two college ladies from Iowa to compare the relative merit and deficiencies of assorted player’s backsides….

Lets just say I had no comment, and waited for the topic to turn back to something that did not fill me with mild revulsion and an extreme desire to remove myself from the general area so I wouldn’t become associated with whether Dallas Clark or Austin Collie sported the best pair of buns.

After finally having the conversation switch gears to something football related, I found myself in a position to inquire about the fandom of the group I had integrated into.  The ladies from Iowa chose the Colts due to their love of all things Hawkeye’s, and that was especially true for recent players like Angerer, as it was for former players like Sanders and Clark.  One of the older couples had lived in Indianapolis their whole lives and had supported the team since they relocated from Baltimore.  Another couple had been introduced to the game by their children/grandchildren and really started following the Colts around the time Manning was drafted.  The final couple were locals from Anderson, and had come out to camp because they were passing fans of the Colts, and were hoping to secure a few autographs for posterity.

The first Colts player (Adam Vinatieri) to walk onto the field for the afternoon practice | Jacob Crocker

Friday Afternoon (3:15)

Finally, players started to venture onto the field, starting with the kickers.  Vinny was the first to make an appearance, and drew a loud ovation from the crowd that had been waiting for nearly an hour already.  He was followed almost immediately by Justin Snow and Pat McAfee.  Now, when McAfee first walked onto the field, I had to do a double and triple take, because it was his face, but Carrot-Top’s hair.

Snow surprised me as well given that he was sporting a “Black Hat,” embellished with the Colts emblem.  These “Black Hats,” are actually a famous part of the Civil War, as they were sported by the Eastern Iron Brigade (First Brigade of the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac).  This brigade earned its most public distinction by rallying and beating back a Confederate line after its Corps commander, Gen. John Reynolds, was killed by sniper fire.

Justin Snow
Justin Snow sporting a Colts "Black Hat" | Jacob Crocker

As it was still early, Vinny and McAfee started working out and stretching, with Vinny kicking some practice field goals from about 25-30 yards out on the far side of the field, and was actually very consistent from that “extra point,” range.  As it finally got closer to 3:30, more and more players strode onto the field, doing their stretches.  This drew more people to the line, and as the ladies were focused mainly on the players now, I gave my rope-line spot to a father and his 4 or 5 year old son who had just moved in behind me.  The kid was absolutely beaming, and the father was really appreciative for the front row spot.

Personally, it felt good to see a young Colts fan get to enjoy seeing the team, probably the first time in real life, and I was glad to help this smiling kid dressed in a small blue Clark jersey get to be that much closer to the team without having to stare through a forest of legs just to get a glimpse.

As with the morning practice, the offense and defense kind of separated from each other and had group stretches and warm ups.  After about 5 minutes of stretches, Vinny trotted over from the far side of the field, and they set up for full team field goals.  After setting up on the 10 yard line for a 20-yard chip shot, Vinny proceeded to knock down his first three shots from 20, 25, and 30 yards.  Then the troubles set in…  Vinny got good power on the ball, but from my vantage point it sailed wide right.  He then hit dead center from 40, and barely made it from 45, then missed his final two wide right from 50 and 55.

Pat McAfee responds to the sudden crowd outburst of, "Nice Hair Pat!" | Jacob Crocker

Right after Vinny’s last FG attempt, they moved the punting machine out onto the field, and set it up for practice attempts returning.  They slowly worked from simply having the balls lobbed out to the returners, to full snap situation punts with McAfee even working on his catch and drop for the punts.

As they built up to the full squad snaps, though, a number of individual drills were taking place.  The gunners were practicing their break aways against each other, the lines practiced individual matchups, and Pat practiced his kicking motion every time the ball went flying.  Little by little as each position finished their allotted snaps they came together for full team drills.

The only low spot during this part of the practice was a player dressed in a red #22 jersey who dropped 2 punts during the early catching drills, and then dropped another one during full team snaps.  It took a lucky bounce back into his hands, and he side stepped to recover, but it was another drop he had on the day.

At about 4 o’clock, things started to break up again as the special teams practice concluded and players were sent off to their individual areas.  Peyton Manning took Curtis Painter and all of the receivers, including Brandon James to the far side of the field while the first and second team offensive lines moved to the far sideline, and Hiller and Brandstater took the running backs to the near endzone with the defensive unit.  While Brandstater and Hiller were practicing hand-offs with the RBs, the offensive line were lining up for one-on-one drills against each other as if in snap situations.

Manning, on the other hand took all of the receivers and started off by having each run the exact same route, while he threw the ball.  They ran through three cycles running a quick cut back route (~5 yards), an In and go route (10-15 yards), and finally a hook and go route (20+ yards).  Each receiver caught every pass thrown to them by Manning, although some like Collie made very spectacular catches, while others, like Guice hauled in the ball but looked less comfortable.

After finishing the third cycle, Manning split them into two groups with Manning’s group consisting of Collie, Smith, James, and Guice, while Painter’s group consisted of Wayne, Giguere, and White.  As with before, each receiver ran the same route in a cycle, but for the first couple of cycles, Manning would rotate between throwing to the right group (his), and the left group (Painter’s).  Each receiver caught the ball on their prescribed route with Collie make a fairly spectacular one handed, edge of his fingertips catch.  What added to the awesome caliber of the catch was the relative ease with which he seemed to catch it, and the complete lack of struggle to bring the ball from the fingertips of his right hand all the way to his body.  It was similar to the Dallas Clark catch last year (against the Ravens) that Clark seemingly didn’t even have to work to catch, but Collie’s appeared to be even more fluid.

The very next throw was the complete opposite of Collie’s catch.  Manning was throwing to his left to Sam Giguere, and whether Manning under-threw the ball, or Giguere simply took one step too far before slanting out on his flag route, the ball was simply not in the place for an easy catch.  Giguere had just looked inside to get a read on the ball, realized it was under-thrown, twisted his whole upper body most of the way around to his outside and physically grabbed the catch out of the air.  It was impressive in the control, strength, and dexterity Giguere displayed, much the same way that Collie’s was impressive because it showed off his poise, litheness, and nimbleness.  Two great catches made in two completely different styles.

As the practice progressed, McAfee started practicing his punts out past the far sideline.  He was standing near the 20, or so (maybe up to the 30), and was bombing punt after punt to a trainer standing dead on the opposing 10 yard line.  With each and every punt, McAfee would change where he kicked it from, some being closer to the 20, while others were nearly up to the 30, but each and every punt landed within a couple of yards up or down-field of the 10 yard line, and was nearly every time within one to two quick steps laterally of where the trainer was standing.  McAfee was getting very good hangtime too, with some punts hanging in the air for well over 5 seconds.

Finally, at about 4:30, Manning, Painter, the receivers, and the offensive lines all came to the near side of the field, lined up around the 30 yard line and started full speed drills.  These drills included just about every set in the Colts offensive playbook, with I-formation, 2-TE, 3-wide, and 4-wide sets being called from the shotgun and from under center.  Each snap featured a different combination of receivers, running backs, and tight ends with Austin Collie, Taj Smith, Sam Giguere, and Brandon James getting the majority of snaps at receiver while Devin Moore and Mike Hart dominated the RB snaps and Eldridge, Tamme and Cloherty took most of the snaps at Tight End.

For this last 45 minutes of practice, Manning, Painter, Hiller, and Brandstater all took turns lining up under center, with all of them completing the largest majority of their passes.  Taj Smith, Austin Collie, Brandon James, Sam Giguere, Brody Eldridge, Javarris James, Colin Cloherty, and Gijon Robinson all had notable catches that either involved special feats of athleticism, good control in close coverage, or simply out-working the covering LB, safety, or corner.  Gijon had one pass that required him to jump as high as he could, extend as far as he could and drag a ball thrown very high out of the air.  Eldridge had a TD pass where he simply stood about 1 yard into the endzone, caught the ball into his chest, and simply shrugged off Powers who was diving in to knock the ball away and did all of this without even rocking on his feet from the hit or the shrug.  Cloherty had a great effort in the back corner of the End Zone where he turned around to catch the ball with his feet just in bounds and was reaching for the ball as Angerer, who was covering quite well to be honest, pushed Cloherty back, making him lay out backwards, and knocked the ball down.  The contact was close enough that it could have been called pass interference as easily as it could not have been, but either way, Cloherty had beaten Angerer just enough, and put himself in just the right spot that he would have made an easy catch if Angerer had been a half second slower, or the ball had been thrown 2 feet higher.

The defense didn’t look too shabby either, despite the large amount of completions that were allowed.  Taj Smith had one knocked out of his hands in the middle of this part of practice.  Hayden and Powers both had a knockdown against Wayne earlier in the day.  Angerer had the aforementioned pass defended, while his compatriot Humber had a pair of knock downs as well as a couple of potential sacks and a handful of run stuffs and short stops.  Just about everyone on the field for any real amount of time did very well.

This about wrapped up the afternoon practice, which drew yet another hearty round of applause and wild calls for particular players to come over and sign autographs.  Despite initially looking like no one cared to come over, Pat McAfee, Curtis Painter, Brandon James, Taj Smith, and later Donald Brown, Sam Giguere, and Peyton Manning stopped by to say hi and sign autographs.  Painter and McAfee worked the line from one end of the field to another staying well after many others had left.  Giguere had been running cool down laps for a few minutes before coming over, and Peyton was doing timed 40 yard dashes with a full helmet and pads.  Once the last few players got done doing their post-practice drills, I decided I’d try to beat the rush and head back home through the construction and heat (as the air conditioner in my truck doesn’t work) for my hour and a half drive home.  So with a quick call to my family letting them know I’d be driving soon, I headed home to two very bored, but overly excited dogs who were happy to have me home.

Pat McAfee and Curtis Painter signing autographs after practice | Jacob Crocker

For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to go to the training camp yet, I hope this has given you a good taste of what a day at Anderson can be like.  So much can happen each and every day there, with thousands of interesting people to meet, from bloggers like Brett and I, to long-range fans like the young ladies from Iowa, to Colts fans of every age and size.  It was a great day, even if it did feel like being in a broiler the whole time, and even beyond that, the practice was brilliant.

Anthony Gonzalez plays ball with some young kids from the crowd | Jacob Crocker