Coming off a season that saw them lose their star quarterback and a lot of games, the Colts need to find new swagger to get them back to the AFC Championship Game, and hopefully beyond. Matt Danely went to Colts camp and reported on the changes in mentality and attitude that will hopefully see the team return to the top of the AFC South.
One of the biggest storylines throughout the offseason for the Indianapolis Colts was head coach Chuck Pagano receiving his new contract, thus being joined at the hip with GM Ryan Grigson and the wholesale changes within the coaching staff. The additions of Joe Philbin (offensive line), Ted Monachino (defensive coordinator), Brian Schottenheimer (quarterbacks coach), and the official change in status with Rob Chudzinski to offensive coordinator have given a facelift not only to the staff in general but also to the overall atmosphere to training camp.
Whether or not it has an impact on the success of the team in 2016, this coaching staff doesn’t resemble anything from the recent assembly of teachers – even Pagano has taken a less friendly, more business-like approach with the media. While the overall effect is seen with the entire process and is noticeable at all coaching positions, the feeling is primarily with Philbin and Monachino, who are here to change the culture of two major areas in need of improvement.
Constantly teaching and working his unit hard is how Monachino and Philbin have been explained in the past. This observation is not coincidental nor is it incidental, and it certainly is being noticed by both those in the media as well as the Colts players.
Totally different feel with Monachino running the show from last year. Aggressive and loud. #Colts
— Matt Danely (@MDanely_NFL) July 28, 2016
One thing that's stood out to me at #ColtsCamp: Joe Philbin is working his offensive lineman HARD. On them non-stop. Constant teaching.
— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) July 31, 2016
T.Y. McGill, who was claimed off of waivers in early September of last year, told me this emphatically at camp, “We’re bought in,” when asked about the new defensive coordinator and how the unit is responding. “It’s definitely a different atmosphere – we’re also all different in life now and there’s a different guy in there.” McGill also stated that he felt Monachino could match any player’s intensity level when it came to going through practices.
Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles echoed McGill’s sentiments, saying, “It’s a lot different with [Ted] coming in, and the mindset we have. I feel like we’re a lot more physical, a lot more hands on.” Quarles went on to explain that it has made himself, as well as others, eager to get better every day, and that such development is, “the only thing on our minds”.
There also appears to be a slight change in how quarterback Andrew Luck is approaching this season. Luck has long been one to use excessive touch when throwing to the boundary or attempting to put a ball deep when his receiver has some separation from the coverage downfield. This has either led to batted balls at the catch point, costly interceptions, or audible gasps from fans despite the ball magically going right over a defender’s shoulder.
From what I’ve witnessed thus far in camp, Luck is putting more power behind those throws – which he absolutely should – and he’s taking a quicker approach to getting the ball to its intended target. His footwork looks to be more definite, but not hurried. Rather than settling for the gimme reads, he’s featuring a more deliberate approach to seeing his progressions through. An additional by-product of this process, though, has been errant throws occasionally floating over his receivers’ heads and into a the hands of a defender.
With Chudzinski having a carry-over rapport with Luck from last season and the addition of Schottenheimer to Luck’s hip pocket as his position coach, it would seem reasonable to assume there would be some time needed to bind their styles. This is apparently something that has been approached very well by both coaches with like-minded ideas, grinding out their plan to perfection. And it shows. Schottenheimer and Chudzinski work very well around each other, never standing in line to coach Luck. They know their roles, and they’re executing them in the same manner in which they expect their offense, and quarterback, to do so.
It’s also pretty apparent that Luck is being instructed to polish up his mechanics – mainly his footwork – and fundamentals, as a whole. Like any process where even the minutest of details are being altered, time is needed to smooth the entire process out. At the moment, Luck’s ball placement is suffering a bit throughout the team’s practices despite being on target enough for completions at a regular clip.
Luck will get there throughout the polishing process, and it won’t be an extended ordeal either. His eye discipline is being fed hard through drills and it feels apparent to Luck and the staff that this camp is likely the most important of his career.
Some other issues that have come up through the duration of camp are the ever-present injuries that have seemed to follow the Colts over the past several seasons. This season, like others before it, those issues have been largely on the defensive side of the ball – primarily the secondary and defensive line.
Defensive end Henry Anderson, still working his way back from last year’s season-ending injury, started camp on the PUP list. Safety Clayton Geathers hasn’t been able to show his transition from his rookie season either, as he remains on the NFR-I list and is sporting a walking boot. Additionally, rookie safety T.J. Green has missed a couple days, newly signed cornerback Patrick Robinson has missed some time of his own, and there have been a host of short-term injuries creeping in to others, including cornerback Vontae Davis for a short time during their evening practice. The fact that Arthur Jones has been suspended for the first four games of the season sets back the defensive line even further, as well.
On a positive note, there is increased quality rotational depth in both areas. The improvement in that area should help to mitigate any long-term issues that have popped up to this point in camp. Second-year corner D’Joun Smith has been getting some good reps in the absence of Robinson and others, while Darius Butler has been competent in relief snaps at safety. Jalil Brown is also familiar in this defense, having been with the Colts for at least a spell over the past three seasons.
McGill, Zach Kerr, and Quarles have filled in nicely along the defensive line when called upon, and each also has a comfort level with the organization.
So what does all of this mean? Not a thing at the moment. As former Colts’ defensive coordinator / linebackers coach Rick Venturi told me, “I don’t take any of it into account until you see a better product on the field. There are a lot of different coaching styles, some quieter than others and some who motivate with high-energy levels. It all comes down to game time – there are so many in-game decisions that go into being a great coach. You can’t judge them until then.”
Despite a feel of atmospheric changes, or new approaches that are evident, Venturi is absolutely correct. We see it, fans see it. But until the product is better on Sundays, it’s just different – not better.