Fan base won’t see it, but Colts will ramp up physical nature of camp

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indianapolis Colts are about to embark on unique training camp experience.

A more physical approach is anticipated.

Oh, and fans will have to take the media’s word for it.

In a break from the past, the Colts are plotting a more rigorous course in their attempt at returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. That routine largely will unfold behind closed doors as the team will hold camp at its Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center for the first time.

Whether thousands of fans are on hand each day – only two sessions are open to the public, including Sunday’s at Lucas Oil Stadium – or a smattering of media, players should anticipate a more combative atmosphere.

“It’ll be a little more physical,’’ first-time general manager Chris Ballard said Monday. “Look, it’s hard to be a physical team if you don’t want to have a physical training camp.

“I think it really comes to light when you get into November and December. Having a physical camp – me and Chuck (Pagano) have talked a long time about this, and he’s in agreement – it doesn’t mean we’re tackling to the ground every day. But what it means is we’re going to have a few more live sessions than they’ve had in the past.’’

In June, Pagano acknowledged the need for a more physical camp to upgrade what’s been a poor-tackling defense. But he also made it clear this won’t be a preseason of unvarnished aggression.

“You’re always scared to death’’ about injuries, he said, “but at the same time if you don’t tackle, it’s hard to get good at tackling.’’

The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement stresses player safety and limits the length of daily practices to a total of four hours. Also, only one padded practice is allowed per day, and then no longer than three hours. If there are two practices per day, one must be a “walk-through.’’

The Colts routinely have followed a hit-and-wrap-up approach to camp. Running backs are subject to game-like contact in short-yardage and goal-line drills, but receivers seldom feel the wrath of a defensive back.

The heaviest contact usually has come during positional drills when it’s pass rushers versus offensive linemen or a blitzing linebacker taking on a running back or tight end.

“We’ll continue to have discussions . . . and there may be some periods come training camp that we decide we want to go ‘live’ there,’’ Pagano said. “Again, until you do that, you get to the preseason and usually that first or second preseason game is an eye-opener for a lot of the guys, especially the young guys until they adapt to the speed of the game.’’

From a fans’ perspective, the biggest change in camp won’t involve increased physicality. It’s the lack of accessibility.

For the first time since the team’s relocation in 1984, training camp is at its West 56th Street complex and closed to the public. Only two practices are open to fans: Sunday’s first session at Lucas Oil Stadium and Aug. 5 at Warren Central High School.

The previous 33 training camps have been at Anderson University or Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. The Colts’ contract with Anderson University had expired and Ballard determined a few alternative sites weren’t appropriate for a team in serious transition.

“I walked in the door and the contract was up at Anderson,’’ he said. “They had had a couple of other plans in place, and I just didn’t feel comfortable with the situations that we were moving into at the time that was the best thing for our team and for our team’s chances to get ready to win.

“Saying that, I want you to understand that I like training camp. This will be new for me, too. I’ve never been at home for training camp. I love training camp when we are able to go away and our fans can get access to our players that they usually can’t get.

“I apologize to our fans for not being able to do that this year. Hopefully going forward we’ll be able to correct that.’’

Ballard indicated a return to a more fan-friendly camp away from the team complex is possible.

“Could be,’’ he said. “If we can find a place that we think is suitable and is a win-win for both the place we’re going and for us where we can prepare, yeah, that could happen.’’

 

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