REGGIE HAYES: Five ‘Non-Andrew Luck’ questions as Indianapolis Colts open training camp at Grand Park Sports Campus
The Frank Reich era begins in earnest this week when the Indianapolis Colts open training camp Wednesday at their new site, Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield.
This event will also be known as “The Andrew Luck Throwing (or Not) Camp.”
Until we have some clarity on Luck’s return to quarterback, which depends on the definition of “clarity,” it’s worth considering what other aspects of the Colts’ training camp will be worth watching. (Reminder for fans: You must order the free tickets online to attend camp.)
Here are the 5 Non-Luck (more or less) Questions facing the Colts:
1. Who else is injured?
Nothing is more relevant in training camp than player health. While NFL teams are notorious for keeping a relative lid on the extent of injuries, it’s easy enough to see who is or isn’t participating in training camp.
Two important players who won’t be participating initially are safeties Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker, both placed on the active physically unable to perform list. Geathers had a neck procedure before the 2017 season that kept him out of 11 games but his current status is apparently related to a knee issue.
Hooker went out for the season as a rookie in Week 7 when he suffered a torn ACL and MCL and could be back by Aug. 9 or 10, Colts general manager Chris Ballard told Colts.com last week.
Other key players who should be watched to see their level of health: offensive linemen Anthony Castonzo and Jack Mewhort, running back Marlon Mack and tight end Erik Swoope.
2. Will Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron be a dynamic duo?
Fans love Doyle, the homegrown tight end, and he turned in the biggest season of his career in 2017 with 80 receptions for 690 yards and four touchdowns. Keep in mind he did this without Luck throwing the ball once. Not bad.
Ebron spent four seasons with the Detroit Lions before the Colts signed him as a free agent. He caught 53 passes for 574 yards and four touchdowns in 2017.
The combination could be essential to Luck’s return to form.
“I’m really excited about our tight end group,” Reich said at the end of June minicamp.
A third tight end, former basketball player Swoope, might figure into the mix if he’s healthy.
3. What’s going on at running back?
The Colts’ leading rusher from last season, Frank Gore (961 yards), is gone. Strong short-yardage back Robert Turbin is suspended four games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
That leaves the starting job likely in the hands and legs of second-year back Marlon Mack. Mack averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season, in which he always seemed to be either on the verge of a 20-yard gain or a five-yard loss. Experience could help him this season. He has big-play capability, to be sure.
Two other candidates are rookies in Nyheim Hines, a possible draft steal with shades of Darren Sproles in his game, and Jordan Wilkins, whose size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and pass-blocking skills could come into play. Others with experience trying to earn notice will be sixth-year back Christine Michael and third-year back Josh Ferguson. Michael (5-10, 220) could be a short-yardage option in theory, but he’s only scored one touchdown in four seasons (three in Seattle, one in Green Bay). He joined the Colts in June 2017 but went on injured reserve two weeks later.
4. Do they even have any linebackers?
The answer to the question is yes, they have linebackers. If we add “capable of making big plays?” to the question, that becomes a little more difficult to answer.
The Colts’ leading tackler last season, Antonio Morrison, returns, but defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has said the positions are wide open, with no set depth chart heading into camp. An exaggeration? Eberflus surely has some idea of the pecking order. But it is as wide open as a training camp can be.
Tyrell Adams, who spent two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, could be a factor, along with Najee Goode, Anthony Walker, Matthew Adams, Zaire Franklin, Skai Moore and rookie Darius Leonard.
Looking for household names? Not on the Colts roster.
5. Which rookie will make an impact?
The aforementioned Leonard, if he’s healthy, could be a contributor as an outside linebacker, situational pass rusher. But the most likely rookie to make an impact is an easy call: guard Quenton Nelson out of Notre Dame. Nelson, the Colts’ first-round pick, was considered one of the top three overall talents in the draft by some analysts.
Nelson, at the very least, will be part of the coalition to keep Luck upright. Guard isn’t as vital to pass protection as tackle, and maybe not even as important as a skilled pass-protecting running back (which could be a glaring need), but if Nelson is part of a more stable, productive line, it’ll be a huge plus.
As training camp opens, all eyes will be on Luck. But this is a team with all sorts of uncertainty entering the Reich era. There’s no question about that.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.