INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Two months of offseason work is in the books, and Chuck Pagano likes what he sees of his Indianapolis Colts.
“I think we can be a good football team,’’ he said Thursday. “I think there’s something special going on here.’’
What we know for certain is an offseason program that began April 17 ended Thursday. After the final minicamp practice was scuttled and Pagano addressed his 90-player roster, veterans went their own way and rookies braced for another two weeks of hands-on work with coaches as is allowed by the collective bargaining agreement.
Everyone reconvenes July 29 for the start of training camp, which for the first time will be held at the team’s West 56th Street complex. The first practice is July 30 at Lucas Oil Stadium and one of only two open to the public.
Before the majority of the players scattered, Pagano offered a parting message:
Stay in your playbook.
Don’t be a knucklehead.
“There’s 24 hours in a day so you can do a lot of stuff . . . be smart,’’ Pagano said. “You’ve got to be great pros and you’ve got to be accountable. You’ve got to sacrifice. You’ve got to make great decisions.
“We can’t afford to lose anybody during this time.’’
Here are five takeaways after observing the Colts evolve during their offseason work:
Camp opens in six weeks and we’re two months away from the Sept. 10 season opener against the Los Angeles Rams, and we still have no clarity on Andrew Luck’s status. His rehab from January surgery on his right shoulder has not advanced to the point he’s begun throwing. Maybe that occurs next week. Maybe in early or mid-July.
Whenever Luck is cleared to limber up the NFL’s richest right arm, it will be with restrictions. Even so, there seems to be ample time for him to get into game shape for the Rams, providing he encounters no setbacks.
While we’ll maintain a modicum of concern until we see Luck actually zipping passes to T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, we’ve taken the stance management expects him back for the opener. If owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard had serious concerns, they probably would have signed an accomplished backup QB rather than stick with Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris.
Irsay insisted the offensive line is fixed. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was a tad more measured in his assessment.
“The offensive line is a priority for us,’’ Chudzinski said. “Improvement in that area is necessary. What was understandable yet not acceptable last season is not going to be understandable this season.’’
Everything points to a starting unit of left tackle Anthony Castonzo, left guard Jack Mewhort, center Ryan Kelly, right guard Joe Haeg and right tackle Le’Raven Clark, although Chudzinski insisted the coaching staff will keep on open mind on the right-side alignment.
We’re going to keep on eye on Mewhort, who finished last season on injured reserve after undergoing surgery to address a chondral defect in his left knee. The team managed his practice time during organized team activities, but Mewhort was not on the field – even as a spectator – during the mandatory minicamp.
“We’ve had him on a pitch count,’’ Pagano said.
The team also must determine viable backups. Denzelle Good and free-agent pickup Brian Schwenke should be in the mix in the interior, but each missed significant practice time during the offseason. And who’s the backup swing tackle? Will mammoth rookie Zach Banner make enough progress to handle that role?
Luck’s injury/inactivity dominated headlines, but we’ve been just as concerned with the status of Clayton Geathers. The third-year safety underwent neck surgery in March to repair a bulging disc in his neck, and there’s no timeline for his return.
Geathers’ absence from the offseason program coincided with first-round draft pick Malik Hooker also missing all on-field work as he completes his rehab from hip/groin surgery. Hooker has insisted he’ll be ready for camp. We have no idea when Geathers will be cleared.
The safety picture seemed to blur even more this week. Darius Butler, who’s making the transition from cornerback, was one of the starters. The other? Much of the time it was Matthias Farley, not 2016 second-round pick T.J. Green.
Running back rotation:
It’s an intriguing mix led by the elder statesman (34-year old Frank Gore), the versatile veteran (Robert Turbin), the rapid rookie (Marlon Mack) and the journeyman looking to finally make it (Christine Michael).
We’re expecting Gore to remain the workhorse, if you consider 16-18 carries per game workhorse level. He can join John Riggins and John Henry Johnson as the only players to rush for at least 1,000 yards at 34 or older. The wildcard in Gore’s pursuit is whether Chudzinski offers an expanded role to Turbin, who would embrace it.
“He had a helluva spring,’’ Chudzinski said.
Also, Mack could steal some of Gore’s carries if he proves himself NFL-ready. Mack would offer big-play burst in the ground game that’s been sorely missing. In two seasons with the Colts, Gore has 523 carries, but only six have gained more than 20 yards. The only two times in his 12-year career he’s averaged less than 4 yards per carry? In 2016 (3.9) and ’15 (3.7).
The most heated positional battle during camp might be at inside linebacker. Sean Spence. Jon Bostic. Rookie Anthony Walker. Returnees Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison.
Defensive coordinator Ted Monachino went out of his way to praise Bostic and Spence, two of the veteran free-agent acquisitions. They have “ramped up the competition in that group,’’ he said. “You add a thumper Mike and you add a speed Dime and Will ‘backer.
“This Jon Bostic character, he’s a guy that can do an awful lot of things very well.’’