INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Whatever cursory opinions were formed during the Indianapolis Colts’ two-month off-season workout program are about to yield to more substantial scrutiny.
Veterans report for the start of training camp Saturday and the pads soon will be dusted off and pulled on. The first practice is Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium and the first in full pads is Tuesday at the team’s Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
That’s when players prove they belong, or prove they’re in over their heads.
“You know, it’s hard right now because we haven’t had pads on,’’ general manager Chris Ballard said. “You get a very false sense of who your team is in OTAs because there are no pads on. When we get the pads on, I’ll have a better indication of where we’re at.
“We’ve still got a long ways to go and pads are going to show us exactly where we’re at. That’s really when you see where your team is at the time.’’
The roster includes 90 players, including 44 who are Colts for the first time. It includes the NFL’s oldest active player: 44-year old Adam Vinatieri, who’s heading into his 22nd season. And it includes three 21-year olds heading into their first: Malik Hooker, Marlon Mack and Anthony Walker.
A brief look at a handful of players who figure to be under the most scrutiny as training camp upfolds:
- NT David Parry: This has nothing to do with his off-season alcohol- related arrest in Scottsdale, Ariz. and subsequent plea agreement even though Parry still could be disciplined by the league. This has everything to do with Ballard spending the off-season reinforcing the defensive line.
New faces on the interior include Johnathan Hankins, Ballard’s heftiest investment (3 years, $27 million, $14.5 million guaranteed) who brings his 325-pound frame from the New York Giants to Indy; Al Woods, John Boyd and 330-pound Grover Stewart, one of the team’s fourth-round draft picks. T.Y. McGill and Hassan Ridgeway return from a year ago.
Parry, a 2015 fifth-round draft pick, and running back Frank Gore are the only Colts to start all 32 games the last two seasons. It’s going to take a stellar camp for Parry to extend his streak.
- S T.J. Green: The Colts realized Green was a work in progress when they took him in the second round of the 2016 draft. He went to Clemson as a wideout before transitioning to safety his final two seasons.
That being said, Green’s rookie season was lackluster at best. He appeared in 15 games, starting four, but lacked consistency in coverage and tackling. A lasting snapshot came when he whiffed on a tackle in the open field in Oakland. Too often, Green’s aggression got the better of him as evidenced by two unnecessary roughness penalties and one running-into-the-kicker infraction.
In the take-it-for-what-it’s-worth department, Pro Football Focus rated Green 91st among 91 qualifying safeties a year ago.
The safety position is a mess right now. Clayton Geathers will miss at least the first six games of the regular season as he rehabs from neck surgery and rookie Malik Hooker opens camp on PUP. Green opened the team’s off-season work as the starting free safety, but eventually was supplanted by Matthias Farley.
Good for Farley, bad for Green.
- WR Phillip Dorsett: He’s heading into year 3, which basically is put-up-or-shut-up time for a first round pick. Dorsett is an unquestioned speedster and has offered occasional flashes. Of his 51 receptions in two seasons, 12 have gained at least 20 yards. In 2016, Dorsett generated four of the Colts’ top six passing plays: 64-, 51- and a pair of 50-yarders.
What’s been missing? Consistency and reliability. He’s been limited to two catches or fewer in 19 of his 26 games. That’s not nearly good enough.
We’re not predicting this is a make-it-or-break-it camp for Dorsett, but he must display marked improvement. There promises to be ample competition for repetitions behind three-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton with Donte Moncrief, Chester Rogers and free-agent Kamar Aiken.
- OT Le’Raven Clark: The pressure on Clark, a 2016 third-round pick, is to build on his late-blooming rookie season. He was inactive for eight of the first 12 games, then started at right tackle for the final three games. The encouraging part is Clark held his own as the Colts routed the Vikings, lost at Oakland and rallied to beat Jacksonville.
But again, significant progress in year 2 is a necessity. During off-season work, the coaching staff allowed Joe Haeg to develop at right guard and Clark at right tackle. If each cements his position, the offensive line has a chance to hold up. But if Clark falters, serious shuffling could result.
And we’ve already had too much of that.