Early ‘tension’ helped set tone for joint work between Colts, Panthers

Indianapolis Colts

WESTFIELD – The first “team’’ session – let’s call it the first taste of real football this summer – had barely gotten under way.

Then, in the blink of an eye, a mass of humanity. Pushing, shoving. There might have even been a few glancing punches landed, but that was impossible to verify because of that mass of humanity.

Frank Reich described it as “a little bit of tension and that helped put it in the right atmosphere.’’

Reich’s Indianapolis Colts were sharing the practice field Thursday afternoon at Grand Park Sports Campus with the Carolina Panthers in what was the next amped-up phase of training camp.

It was one skirmish, hardly reminiscent of the free-for-alls that marred the last time the Colts shared their camp facilities, two years ago against the Cleveland Browns. It got to the point the joint work with the Browns was shortened.

Prior to Thursday’s practice, Reich and Carolina coach Matt Rhuel gathered their respective captains in the locker rooms.

Let’s do this the right way. Let’s be competitive. Let’s get this right. If any scuffle breaks out, let’s not let it escalate.

“Credit to the players,’’ Reich said. “What I think happened is early on there was a little bit of tension and that helped put it in the right atmosphere. But the guys handled it the right way. Still got the speed and intensity we wanted.

“You know that’s going to happen somewhere, just don’t let it escalate.’’

It was difficult to ascertain the culprits, primarily because so many players swarmed in. But it appeared wideout Michael Pittman Jr. was in the middle of it for the Colts. He caught a pass, got up and headed back to the huddle but was yanked down.

Parris Campbell was there, but apparently only to help break things up.

“I’m not too sure who was in it,’’ he said. “I kinda was, I was trying to defuse the situation.

“It’s just the nature of the game and stuff like that is going to happen all the time. We’re competitors and they came to compete as well.’’

QBs sharper

Jason Eason and Sam Ehlinger are in the midst of erratic training camps, but each had positive moments against the Panthers. That was especially true during a red-zone session near the end of practice.

Ehlinger was 3-for-5 during his work with the starting unit, and that included touchdowns to Pittman and tight end Jack Doyle. Another TD to Pittman in the left corner was waved off by the officials because Pittman was unable to get both feet inbounds.

Eason’s work during that phase was abbreviated but productive. His only pass was a touchdown to rookie tight end Kylen Granson.

During an early 7-on-7 session, Eason was 6-for-6 and spread his completions to six different receivers.

“Sam and Jacob I thought we really solid,’’ Reich said.

More injuries

Linebacker E.J. Speed suffered a knee injury during punt drills, and running back Nyheim Hines was “leg-whipped’’ while returning punts.

The severity of Speed’s injury wasn’t immediately known.

“In the punt drill,’’ Reich said, “(Speed) just got the knee a little bit wrong.’’

Hines still was on the field after practice talking to a Carolina player.

Injuries Part II

Rookie defensive end Kwity Paye was at Thursday’s practice with his right foot in a protective boot. He sprained the ankle in Wednesday’s workout.

“We’re optimistic about it,’’ Reich said. “We don’t think it’s going to be bad. We don’t think it’s a long-term thing. We think it’s mild.’’

Kwity Paye #51 of the Indianapolis Colts walks onto the field during the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers joint practice at Grand Park on August 12, 2021 in Westfield, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Also, All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner continued to miss time with a foot injury. It’s clear the team doesn’t consider it serious.

Reich said the Colts are being “overly cautious.’’

Quarterback Carson Wentz (foot) and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson (foot) looked on again. This time, though, Nelson had his right foot in a boot.

Solid day for D

By all accounts, coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense had a solid afternoon against quarterback Sam Darnold and the Panthers’ offense.

Reich was preoccupied with the offense, but got positive vibes from his players.

“I asked one or two of the defensive guys when they came down, ‘How’d it go down there?’’’ he said. “What I loved was (they said), ‘Thought it was good but we can be better.’ That’s what I would hope the answer would be.’’

Linebacker Bobby Okereke said it was time to face another team in training camp, and the Colts responded.

“Helluva lot of juice just going against live bullets, another opponent,’’ he said. “Just makes it feel more real, like the season is coming around the corner.

“We were live to the whistle. We were flying around, hitting.’’

Which team got the upper hand?

“We won the day,’’ Okereke said. “I think we won the physical battle and that’s the most important thing.’’

Backup safety George Odum delivered one highlight with a leaping interception of Will Grier.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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