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Camp Report from Westside Rob (full)

(Editor’s note:  This is part of our Camp Contest.  Long time reader Westside Rob has shared his observations of last night’s practice with us.  Much thanks to Rob.  If you attend camp and want to report, just drop us an email)

Practice Attended: 8/5/09 – 7:30PM

Growing up (well my Teen years at least) Colts training camp was a yearly tradition.  My Dad and I would drive up to Anderson at least once sometimes twice a summer to see the Colts practice.  Even after growing up and moving on it was something that I did most every year, but when I had kids of my own (2 daughters) and started my own business 8 years ago that tradition died.  Well I set myself to restarting it last night and took my wife and 2 kids to the first (and maybe only) evening practice of this training camp season.  It’s probably been 5 years since I last attended at Rose Hulman but not too much has changed with the exception there is a lot more “stuff” in the fan area going on.  Use to be you show up, hang around, maybe get a player passing by to sign something and that would be about it.

Now they have kids areas, hospitality tents, interactive media exhibits, cheerleader meet and greets, organized autograph sessions, and they even ended the night with what seemed like an never ending fireworks display that rivaled downtown Indy on the 4th of July.  Personally I’d rather have it the old way but my kids seemed to like the “side show” so if that helps them get more interested in the Colts I guess it isn’t really hurting me any.  It is nice that they have concessions now too; it would have been nice to be able to get a cold drink back on some of those 95 degree days in Anderson… It was a big crowd, pretty much both grandstands and a couple of temporary stands that were setup at the corners were all full, in addition to tons of fans along the fences.  Manning came out early and probably signed about 300 autographs along the fence and front row of the big grandstand which was nice.  I’m not an autograph guy myself but I know a lot of people get into that and for him to come out early and do that was one of things that make Peyton special to Colts fans.

Anyway on to the meat of the practice, which is why I went and probably what most people want to hear? 

  • Players sitting out Rushing, Hayden, Jackson, Sanders, Vinatieri, Howard, Hagler, and Mookie Johnson.
  • Practiced as always started with Special Teams work.  First concern right out of the gate, McAffe the new punter looks like a downgrade from Hunter.  Hopefully he’ll get things sorted out, but he was by no means booming high or long kicks.  Collie got through for a block on one punt drill as well.  If Vin’s hip problem does linger Andrus looks like a solid kicker and shouldn’t hurt us too bad if at all.  I wouldn’t want to rely on him in January with the game on the line, but at least early season he’d be certainly serviceable.
  • Speaking of Collie, we might have to nickname him Peyton’s Chihuahua because he was constantly next to Peyton talking to him, clearly asking him questions about every nuance.  And let me tell you Peyton was engaged so I think Collie has figured out at least the first part to really making a splash as a WR on this team.  Since I’m on him I’ll also say that he was a definite standout, his routes were the crispest and sharpest, and he always managed to get good separation off the route.
  • Taj Smith who I’d heard mentioned several times recently but had never heard or seen anything of before last night also caught my eye a lot (could be the dreads).  
  • Garcon wasn’t as big of a standout to me but he caught a long TD pass from Manning later in practice so he did have some moments.  What a long way we’ve come from 2 seasons ago when we had little to no WR depth after Harrison, Wayne, and rookie Gonzo…I suspect that there won’t be a definitive 3rd WR, but that several of the candidates will get time throughout the year.  It’s also likely that someone decent is going to get cut.

  • Other offensive players that caught my eye (good or bad):
    • D. Brown is quick.  I don’t care what his 40 time is this guy has acceleration.  He also has very solid hands, as he caught everything I saw that was thrown his way.  He looked strong both up the middle and going outside.
    • M. Hart appears to be 100%, and he’s just as impressive as last year.  He also seems to have solid hands.
    • Dallas is going to the Pro Bowl this year.  He looked as sharp as ever. Caught a TD at the pylon at the buzzer of the 2 min drill towards the end of practice.
    • Manning’s timing is back to 100%.  He was right there underneath and with the long ball.  Threw at least 5 long perfect spiraling TD passes in various defended drills including some full 11 on 11 work.
    • Hall’s hands have to be the big question mark on him.  I saw him “not catch” at least 3 balls that hit his hands.  None were perfect passes but all were very catchable.  It doesn’t help to be 2-3 inches taller if you can’t catch balls above your head.  He did catch a LONG bomb from Manning in the 2min drill but overall I’m not impressed.  He’s a question mark to me.  Unless he reaches Don Beebe level of Special Teams production I think he’s marginal for the final roster.
    • Chad Simpson is not making this team.  Ball was easily more impressive than him.
    • G. Robinson has some nice catches.  As did Tamme and Santi.  I think we have a VERY deep TE pool.  Hopefully some of them can also block!
    • Sorgi is a train wreck.  His mechanics are awful, his throws are always slightly off target and he has little to no velocity on them.  Painter is clearly still learning the offense and he’s working mostly with guys who will get cut but his mechanics and throw quality are clearly superior to Sorgi.  We all know we are screwed if PM goes down…so what difference does it really make Sorgi vs. Painter…
    • It’s so hard to come to any conclusions about the Off. Line in practice but as DZ and DS have said they are really questions 1-3 about this team.  Lilja was out there going full speed so that’s a good sign.  But looking at the roster what really frightens me is the lack of depth at Tackle.  Diem and Ugoh have both been “fragile” and Charlie Johnson is on the PUP list so we have a real lack of depth there.  I’m hoping it doesn’t but let me be the first to “predict” that the mostly likely position where injuries will affect the success of this team is there.
    • To tag onto recent discussions I did not see them practice the Stretch play once.  It is possible they practiced it on a play I was watching other areas but I did not witness it executed once.  Personally I fall on the DZ side of the argument that it’s critical to the Colt’s overall offensive success because it creates so much uncertainty on the defense when we can execute it effectively.  Not sure if not seeing them practice it means anything but thought I’d throw it out there.
  • Shifting gears to defense: I have to say that I’m extremely excited to see the “tweaks” that Coyer is adding.  It’s obviously hard to get a sense of how often they will deploy this new approach in a game but if they play the games close to how they played the scrimmage work this is going to be one aggressive defense.  The players clearly love it, and it’s clearly giving them a swagger I’ve not seen from that side of the ball in a while.
    • LB blitzing (mostly by Wheeler and Sessions) was rampant.
    • Various Defensive lineman (DT’s included but mostly DE’s) were also constantly in stand up rush positions.  Brock, Freeney, Mathis, C. Johnson.
    • Secondary seemed to be pressing receivers more at the line (God do I hope to see more of this, as there is NOTHING in football that I hate more than the 10 yard cushion on 3rd and 6).
    • It’s hard to judge the DL’s actual play but they were definitely aggressive.  Taylor was getting nice push.  I didn’t see anything special from Moala but he certainly looks the part.  He looks like a bigger Brock physically.
    • Muir and Ed Johnson are clearly the starting NT and UT respectively at this point.  I’ve seen a lot of “mock” 53 man roster’s showing Muir getting cut.  That isn’t going to happen.  Together they were getting good push and holding gaps effectively.  Though I’m kind of rooting (jokingly) for Mookie to get the starting NT job so we could have Johnson and Johnson there in the middle.
    • DBs Nick Graham and Jeraud Powers both caught my eye a lot.  Powers had a leaping pick in the middle of the field or a Sorgi pass.  I think he might have been out of position when he made the pick but he showed great athleticism…
    • Jennings and Hughes seemed to be the #1 and #2 CB’s with Hayden and Jackson sidelined.  Both played aggressive and solid from what I could tell.  Jennings had at least one pick that he created by being aggressive on his cut.  Would have been 6 for the offense if he missed and the WR caught the ball but we need some of that don’t we?
    • Wheeler looked solid and even looked fluid in coverage.  As you would expect, he’s off the field in the nickel package so I’m not sure how much he’ll actually be in coverage but I didn’t see a big liability looming there which is what I’ve heard some people fear with him.
    • Sessions looked ready to go.  I agree that he’s poised for Pro Bowl potential.  With Coyer letting him and Wheeler blitz the QB adding some sacks to his stats should help his cause there…

I told my wife when we left that if the Colt’s O-line can get it’s sh#! Together and stay healthy that this team should be a favorite for the Super Bowl.  We have great depth everywhere else, and some really good players are going to get cut this year.  Hopefully Caldwell will be a good game day coach, he runs what appears to be an efficient and effective practice.  The roles of Moore and Mudd do not seemed to have changed at all.  Coyer and Rychleski really bring some energy and excitement which hopefully will translate to more effective and consistent production.

In my assessment, reports of this team’s quality have not been exaggerated. This is certainly the deepest most talented Colts roster we’ve seen.  O-Line and maybe kickers are the only question marks.  I can’t wait to see some real “pretend” football in pre-season!