ANDERSON, Ind. — Rolling through town to catch some Indianapolis Colts action, anxious to see just how good this team looks with some fairly lofty expectations this season.
Media access was this morning, so I didn't get to talk to players after practice Monday, but I'll do that tomorrow. In lieu of that, I thought I would pass on some general observations from what I saw at Anderson University.
The team was in shorts and shells — head coach Chuck Pagano is said to be limiting the full contact the team will have in camp — but there still was plenty to take in. Here goes:
Reggie Wayne is the most beloved Colt. More than Andrew Luck even. Crazy, right? Fans cheered Wayne when he jogged toward them. They cheered when he ran away from them. Even catching a ball running at three-quarters speed in individual drills elicited applause.
Wayne is coming off an ACL injury, and he's not quite full go yet, although he was involved in plenty of team work Monday and looked good. I thought he geared up as the practice went on, starting cautiously when he was cutting, planting and pivoting — all the things you worry about post-ACL reconstruction — but looking smoother and more confident.
Wayne caught two notable passes in seven-on-seven work: one a tumbling sideline grab that he bounced up quickly from and another down the seam that would have been a touchdown, both of which (you guessed it) got the crowd amped. They love Reggie, and they are happy he appears to be on his way back nicely. Wayne plans to play in the preseason, and you can tell he wants to rev it up a little bit more. The Colts, meanwhile, appear to be holding him back a bit, wanting to be sure he doesn't press back into action too quickly.
Trent Richardson still is not a natural receiver. But you can tell he's trying his best to become one, spending extra time after practice catching the ball with his body turned 90 degrees and with two teammates acting as defenders between him and the ball. They try to distract him and lightly jar the ball loose as he's catching it.
Richardson dropped a few but was working hard at it. In practice, he had one really nice burst up the middle during team red-zone work, scoring a touchdown on a delayed run. He also showed a little hesitation step to the boundary on another play, likely extending the run by a yard or two with the subtle move. He otherwise did nothing flashy in practice, but it's clear the Colts are trying to give him as many reps and chances to prove himself.
Play of the day came from tight end Weslye Saunders, who fits the mold of the basketball-player-turned-pass-catcher the NFL is so fond of these days. On the play, Saunders ran a slant, and the pass from Luck was behind him. No matter — the 6-foot-5, 261-pound Saunders, who has 10 career catches in three NFL seasons, reached back and snagged the ball with one hand. It was the loudest ovation of the day — yes, louder than for Wayne.
Then a funny aftermath: Safety Sergio Brown knocked the ball out of Saunders' hands after the play was over, and he and rookie receiver Donte Moncrief battled for the bobbling ball a good 10 yards (with Brown at one point trying to kick the ball playfully) before Moncrief ended up with it in the end zone.
Saunders might be third on the TE depth chart behind Dwyane Allen (who also looked good coming off an ACL) and Coby Fleener, but Saunders is someone who could surprise if he keeps working at it. Such natural ability.
Speaking of Moncrief, I was told that he has had a nice camp and has settled in as the No. 4 receiver. Yes, that's behind Hakeem Nicks, who, despite Pep Hamilton's comments that he needs to be in better shape, remains one of the top three wideouts. The feeling was that part of Hamilton's comments were taken out of context and that there is not nearly as much disappointment with him as the national media made it out to be. Nicks had a veteran's day off here Monday.
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Nose tackle Josh Chapman looked good to me. He's going to play a good amount. Chapman was a talented player at Alabama who had little chance to develop as a rookie following some college injuries. Now in his third season, he looks like a burgeoning force at 6-0 and 340 pounds. Twice in one-on-ones, Chapman got the best of second-round guard Jack Mewhort, who is being penciled in (lightly) as a starter the way things stand now.
Luck had a strong day throwing, but he was picked nicely by Darius Butler on an off-target throw behind Moncrief. Nice play by Butler, who returned it at least 25 yards down the sideline. Another DB who stood out was Greg Toler, who made two fine plays in coverage against T.Y. Hilton. The first play, Toler broke up a fade pass in red-zone work, high-pointing the ball and knocking it away. The second, Toler stuck with Hilton step for step on a post route and prevented the reception. Both strong efforts.
A running back who opened eyes was undrafted free agent Zurlon Tipton (out of Central Michigan), who has nice size at 6-0 and 231 and showed a little vinegar in his game. In extended reps Monday, Tipton ran hard and finished one run by getting into a scrap with safety Colt Anderson. That was broken up, but it appeared to fire up Tipton, who might make a case for a roster spot if he can put together a strong season and prove his special-teams worth. The opening is there with Vick Ballard on injured reserve and Chris Rainey having been released.
Bjoern Werner looked OK. He's splitting first-team reps with Robert Mathis, who will be suspended the first four games, on the outside. Werner's body appears to be in better shape, with his weight maybe better distributed than he was during a mostly lost rookie season. Teams should run right at Werner early in the season, but he looked better prepared to handle that when it comes.
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