WESTFIELD, Ind. – This training camp is different. It’s unfolding at a noticeably quicker pace and with an undeniable edge to it.
Welcome to Camp Reich. And don’t forget your big-boy pads.
“This is really the only way I think about how to do it, that I thought about it as a player, as a coach,’’ Frank Reich said Wednesday.
From the first day Reich and general manager Chris Ballard charted the course for the latest edition of the Indianapolis Colts, everything – everything – was based on instilling a core toughness. A tough offensive line with a nasty disposition. A tough, penetrating, disruptive defensive front seven.
Listen to rookie Jordan Wilkins on how position coach Tom Rathman has instructed the running backs to approach any defender who’s in their general vicinity.
“Just bring it to them pretty much,’’ he said. “Not being the one being attacked, but being the attacker. Finish the runs. Be physical with low pad level.’’
Be physical, period.
At one point during 11-on-11 drills Wednesday, rookie wideout Reece Fountain secured a pass on an out route and eased up a bit as he neared the right sideline. He was promptly whacked to the ground by a closing DB. Later, Krishawn Hogan’s reward for a reception was being taken to the ground by cornerback Chris Milton.
A tone that was set in the first team meeting in April is taking root on the practice fields at Grand Park.
There is no restriction to how many days players are allowed to be in full pads during training camp, and Reich is piling ‘em up. The Colts were in full pads for a fourth straight practice Wednesday. They’ll be in shells Thursday, then back in pads Friday evening.
Thursday also featured the first ‘live’ contact period in short-yardage and goal-line. Hitting was crisp.
“It was productive,’’ Reich said. “Played live, but played smart.
“I really feel like I can stand here and say I feel like we’re getting better every day. What we said when we brought the team up at the end is if that’s what we keep doing and we keep practicing with the tempo and the speed that we are practicing at right now, good things are going to happen.’’
The previous regime preached a physical, tough approach, but too often that failed to materialize. Camp practices were hardly arduous. In games, well, need we remind you of how the Jacksonville Jaguars have manhandled the Colts in recent meetings?
The foundation of the team had to undergo a seismic shift.
“We’ve said from day 1 when Chris and I sat down (when) we talked to the players, what did we want this team to stand for?’’’ Reich said. “And it’s got to be about toughness. It’s our No. 1 deal. It’s our No. 1 deal and the guys we want on this team, I’ll take a less talented guy who is just a tough football player.’’
Think of John Simon, who’s making the transition from outside linebacker to defensive end. At times, the 260-pounder can be overpowered by 300-pound offensive linemen, but epitomizes everything Reich and Ballard want in a player.
“I think in the long run that wins,’’ Reich said.
While there’s no question the coaching staff is running a more strenuous training camp, it also has set limits. Basically, know when to say when.
There have been a handful of skirmishes between offensive and defensive players, but none seem to have been a result of a cheap shot.
“It’s a very fine line,’’ Reich said, “but what we talk about is what I have learned over the years and what we’ve all learned . . . the guys who know how to do that can play tough but understand how to pull off, those are the guys who understand football.
“The guys that can’t figure out how to do that become dangerous in a bad way. I look at players like that. I’m not saying we have any here, but in my past, they’re dangerous. You don’t want those guys on your team because those kind of players get you beat. They lack discipline.’’
Some players rise to the occasion when pads go on, the hitting commences, then increases.
“All of a sudden, they’ve looked even better,’’ said Reich, who declined to mention specific players.
And some players fade as training camp gets serious.
“That always happens,’’ Reich agreed.
One of the former might be Skai Moore, an undrafted linebacker out of South Carolina. He’ll get extended reps at middle linebacker with the starting unit while Anthony Walker recovers from a groin injury.
Moore has embraced the tenor of practice, since he anticipated it.
“It really didn’t surprise me too much,’’ he said. “I’m a rookie so coming in I had these type of expectations.
“We’re coming out here being physical right off the bat for consecutive days. Yeah, it definitely sets the tone. We’re going to be a physical team, so coach is setting the tone for us right now.’’
The marching orders for defenders?
“We’re full speed, but we’re smart with it,’’ Moore said. “We won’t tackle to the ground.’’
But, he was reminded, there have been occasions when running backs have been taken to the ground.
“Sometimes it happens,’’ Moore said with a smile. “Sometimes we go live.
“We play safe and we’re smart with it. We protect our teammates.’’
And there are limits. Andrew Luck and the quarterbacks wear red jerseys and are not to be jostled.
“We definitely don’t hit 12,’’ Moore said.