It’s time for rookies, drafted and otherwise, to make an impression with Colts
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The sound emanating from the Indianapolis Colts’ West 56th Street complex this weekend isn’t simply from construction vehicles or workers going about their business of upgrading the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
If you listen closely enough – and most of the 60 players are – you’ll hear the sound of opportunity knocking.
General manager Chris Ballard, coach Frank Reich and their support staffs are in the process of once again reshaping the roster. Competition ultimately will determine who stays and who goes, but let’s not kid ourselves: a good portion of the 53-player roster that will open the season Sept. 9 against the Cincinnati Bengals is set.
However, competition will shape the bottom portion of the roster. It will determine whether the Colts keep an extra offensive lineman, running back or wide receiver, or an extra linebacker, defensive lineman or cornerback.
The participation sheet for rookie minicamp runs the gamut: 11 draft picks, ranging from the 6th overall pick (guard Quenton Nelson) to the 235th selection (linebacker Zaire Franklin); 10 undrafted players and 36 players brought in on a try-out basis.
A number that can’t be ignored: 19. The Colts have had at least one undrafted rookie make their opening-day roster in 19 straight seasons. Last year, not only did four beat the odds – center Deyshawn Bond, punter Rigoberto Sanchez, tight end Darrell Daniels and cornerback Kenny Moore II – but they combined to appear in 48 games with 12 starts.
Remember Gary Brackett? Melvin Bullitt? Dominic Rhodes? Terrence Wilkins? All were signed in the hours following the draft. They were afterthoughts who earned a spot and made a difference.
The Colts signed veteran Austin Howard earlier this week to increase the competition at right tackle. He’s 31, entering his ninth season and has started 88 of 92 career games. The Philadelphia Eagles signed him as an undrafted rookie in 2010.
Reich’s message to his young, exuberant captive audience began by introducing it to “what the horseshoe brand of football is all about,’’ he noted, but it quickly focused on the importance of seizing the moment.
“The great thing about this camp is everybody gets plenty of reps and we get a good look at everybody,’’ Reich said Saturday afternoon. “It’s a great opportunity for the tryout guys especially. There have been instances where those guys make it and they’re certainly on the list.
“We make it competitive. We try to give everybody a fair shot. You earn it out on the field.’’
Reich recalled a comment from Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells that still resonates.
“Something of the effect of, ‘I’m the most selfish head coach you’ll ever play for because I’m always going to play the best 11 players. I don’t care what round, how much money . . .’ ’’ Reich said.
The tiers of the rookie minicamp roster are in place for a reason.
Nelson and the majority of Ballard’s second draft class are expected to contribute, some quicker than others and some at a higher level than others. Many of the rookies signed in the hours and days after the draft were on that next-in-line list. In large part, the tryout players were brought in to allow for structured practices, but one or two might make the necessary impression and earn a contract.
South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore was one of the undrafted players who had a “draftable’’ grade on Ballard’s board. Now, he’s hoping to show he belongs.
“I had a few other options,’’ he said, “but I just felt like (this) was the best opportunity for me. I felt like it was a good fit.’’
At South Carolina, Moore started 37 of 50 games and filled up his stat line with 353 tackles, including 20.5 for loss; 5.5 sacks, 20 passes defensed, 14 interceptions and three forced fumbles. He was the Gamecocks’ weak-side linebacker, but has been working at middle ‘backer with the Colts.
“I’m blessed to have this opportunity,’’ Moore said.
He wasn’t aware of the Colts’ 19-year streak of an undrafted rookie making the roster.
“I didn’t know that,’’ Moore said. “Like I said, every day I’m going to prove myself, just try to show my worth every day.
“Every day, we have to come in and prove ourselves.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.