To outsiders, the Indianapolis Colts' rookie class looks about 75 percent less glamorous than a year ago when Andrew Luck and friends stepped into the Colts practice complex.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano sees more.
“This is a dynamic class,” Pagano said the day after the Colts closed out the 2013 draft.
Pagano will begin to find out if his on-paper analysis holds weight the next three days as the Colts hold rookie minicamp Friday through Sunday at the team's practice complex. It's the first chance to see how first-round pick and outside linebacker Bjoern Werner moves, to analyze Khaled Holmes' center skills up close and to gauge whether running back Kerwynn Williams might have the burst to be a breakout return man.
“Obviously, when you're pulling these guys off the board and you're evaluating and you're getting ready to select a guy, you're going to obviously factor in, 'OK, how are we going to use this guy?' " Pagano said. “ 'Where does he fit? How are we going to get him on the field?' All of the things you're asking, we go through that process.”
Pagano and his staff aren't afraid to throw rookies immediately into the mix.
Luck, of course, was the starter from Day One, but that was no surprise. Once the Colts parted ways with Peyton Manning, they were turning the offense over to the rookie in 2012.
But the other draft picks worked their way into the lineup quickly, too. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen started at tight end. T.Y. Hilton became a No.3 or No.2A option at wide receiver behind Reggie Wayne. Vick Ballard ended up as the primary running back.
That's five rookies who became pivotal players last season. Could five of these draft picks move in, too?
Werner will compete for a starting role against free-agent signee Erik Walden.
“We can do a lot of things with this guy,” Pagano said of Werner. “Having a guy like this to come in and add to the mix with the other guys, with Robert (Mathis), and having a guy coming off the edge and being as productive as he was in college, especially this year with the 13 sacks, he can do a lot of things for us.”
Third-round draft pick guard Hugh Thornton from Illinois could compete for a starting spot, too. It's tougher sometimes for offensive linemen to make the transition to dealing with bigger, stronger defensive fronts, not to mention the more complex NFL offensive scheme.
Holmes enters the offense as the No.2 center behind Samson Satele after the Colts traded A.Q. Shipley to the Baltimore Ravens for a conditional 2014 draft pick on Thursday. Holmes is unlikely to start as a rookie, but he could make a training-camp push.
Defensive tackle Montori Hughes was compared favorably to the Baltimore Ravens' Haloti Ngata by Pagano.
“This guy moves like Haloti, he's big like Haloti,” Pagano said. “He walked down the hall, they nicknamed him 'Eclipse.' The guy can barely fit through the door.”
Williams rushed for 2,515 yards in his career with 22 touchdowns, a healthy 6.6 yards per carry. But he might be looking at a more specialized role with the Colts. Williams returned 135 kickoffs for 3,408 yards in his career, fourth-highest among major NCAA colleges.
“He brings a wrinkle to the team that can really help us, and that's as a returner,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. “Our special teams coaches had him rated as one of the best returners in this draft, and that got our attention."
Grigson said he and Pagano both “loved” Williams on tape.
“We saw the last game of the year what a kickoff return can do for you in the Houston game,” Pagano said. “It turned that whole thing around and blew that thing open when Deji (Karim) returned that, and this kid can do that all day.”