Indianapolis Colts training camp: Matt Ryan finding chemistry with a rookie TE, the defense keeps flying

The Indianapolis Colts hosted their final training camp practice at Grand Park before heading to Buffalo to take on the Bills for the first preseason game.

INDIANAPOLIS — As Day 10 wraps up from Grand Park, the next time the Indianapolis Colts will have their pads on will be against the Buffalo Bills for Week 1 of the preseason. There was a sense of excitement in the air as Matt Ryan and the offense continued to find their rhythm against an aggressive defense under Gus Bradley.

Although Thursday’s training camp saw the players not in full pads before an off day, that did not stop the intensity on both sides of the ball.

Matt Ryan: Accurate, poised, and a welcome change

The story of the offseason and training camp has been the acquisition of veteran QB Matt Ryan. Colts owner Jim Irsay’s comments after the conclusion of a disappointing season set the tone and expectation for 2022.

“What’s so damned frustrating is we had such a good football team,’’ Irsay said. “I know what happened, and I saw it happening, and I couldn’t stop it. The ghost had already gotten into the machine.”

It’s safe to say there is a different tune being sung today. Ryan looked crisp for most of the day, dropping the ball in a bucket to Parris Campbell down the sideline and under the closing safety. As has been the trend of camp, Ryan has spread the ball around the offense. Although he was wearing the red no-contact jersey, when the defense muddied the pocket, Ryan remained poised, going through a full progression. It is a welcome change from the frenetic, almost daring gameplay of Wentz.

Indianapolis knows how crucial it is to get off to a hot start after opening 2021 with a 1-4 record and needing to play off their backfoot to get back in the AFC South race. After an opener against the Texans, Indianapolis will have to get the disappointing taste out of their mouth and break the road curse in Jacksonville. After that comes three difficult games against the Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, and Denver Broncos.

Andrew Ogletree continues to shine in positional battle

Turn away from the field and just listen. When you hear the roar, odds are rookie TE Andrew Ogletree made another highlight-reel play. Ogletree made several impressive plays today. First in 7-on-7s when he came down with a deep corner shot from Ryan and another in 11-on-11s where he hauled in a pass that was initially tipped. While it was not a full-contact practice, the ability of Ogletree to get out of his break and generate separation is astonishing. If not for Pittman Jr., no pass catcher has had better chemistry with Ryan than Ogletree.

Following the retirement of Jack Doyle after a nine-year career, it seemed Mo Alie-Cox was poised for the No. 1 role as, typically, rookies struggle to get up to speed. That’s not been the case here. In fact, given his showing at camp, there is significant reason to believe he is the front runner for the starting role over both Alie-Cox and 2022 third-round pick Jelani Woods.

As of now, it appears second-year TE Kyle Granson is the likeliest to take on the “Doyle role” and operate more inline, with Ogletree, Alie-Cox, and Woods in a rotation split-off the line in the slot. With the added size of Pittman Jr. (6’4″) and Ashton Dulin (6’2″), few — if any — teams in the NFL have the length to cover the Colts in the red zone.

Ryan will play ‘a quarter’ against Buffalo on Saturday

Reich announced before the start of Day 10 that Ryan would indeed play against the Bills on Saturday to open the preseason.

“Play maybe a quarter, maybe a little less,” Reich said. “We’ll just take it as the flow of the game.”

Reich also stated players who are not dressing would get in some extra conditioning during warmups. Having your franchise quarterback suit up for a rather meaningless game is counterintuitive for most NFL teams who try desperately to protect their investment. For Indianapolis, Ryan playing is a significant deviation from years past.

In 2021, Wentz missed some of camp due to a foot injury that required surgery. Then in 2020, the NFL scrapped the preseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rewind further to 2019, and Andrew Luck famously walked away from the game. With Ryan even playing, the Colts clearly are putting their money where their mouth is by trusting their offensive line to protect him against one of the best defensive fronts in the league.

Shaquille Leonard remains on the PUP for a healthy Colts team

All things considered, the Colts are in a great spot as far as injuries are concerned. Currently, only WR Michael Strachan (knee) and LB Shaquille Leonard (back). Leonard underwent back surgery in June to address an unspecified issue that appeared to have some connection to his lingering lower-leg pain.

Leonard also underwent ankle surgery during the 2021 offseason and played through consistent pain during the 2021 season. At the moment, there does not seem to be any fear Leonard will miss time in the regular season.

The Colts had several players make their return to the field on Thursday, including WR Parris Campbell, DT Curtis Brooks, OT Jason Spriggs, DT Byron Cowart, S Will Redmond, and RB D’Vonte Price

Gus Bradley’s defense keeps flying to the ball

Speed, pressure, and aggression. Those three words define Gus Bradley’s new defense. Bradley has been coaching at the NFL level since 2006 and brings a lengthy résumé to Indy. His most successful period was when he was the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks from 2009 to 2012, where he had the Legion of Boom.

Bradley has led four top-10 scoring defenses over his 13 seasons as a head coach or defensive coordinator and was instrumental in the Raiders’ defensive improvement going from 25th in yards allowed in 2020 to 14th in 2021.

Indianapolis has a ton of experience on his side but also a wealth of top-tier talent. Bradley has arguably the best linebacker in football on his side, two Pro Bowl defensive linemen, and a former Defensive Player of the Year at corner in Stephon Gilmore.

This depth and talent have shown out at camp, with the defense getting the upper hand on most days. Today was a bit more even, but that’s not to say the defense let up. Yannick Ngakoue and Dayo Odeyingbo lived in the backfield, even needing to slow up so as not to hit Ryan during 11-on-11s.

Ngakoue knows Bradley well, having played for him in both Jacksonville and the Raiders. Earlier in the preseason, he spoke about how special it is to play the LEO position in Bradley’s 4-3 defense.

“The LEO position is super, super special to be able to take a part of,’’ Ngakoue said. “That guy has to be the guy that can run sideline to sideline, a guy that can get to the quarterback, a guy that can stuff the edge, a guy that can hammer blockers.’’

For a defense that finished ninth in points per game (21.5) and second in forced turnovers (33), this unit knows they can be lethal due to their pass rush, which will feature not only Ngakoue and Odeyingbo but DEs Kwity Paye and Ben Banogu.

More notes from Indianapolis Colts training camp

  • Rodrigo Blankenship appears to have the proverbial leg up on Jake Verity for the starting kicker job. During live drills, Blankenship was a clean 5 of 5 on his attempts, including from 55+ yards. Verity went 4 of 5, missing the final kick as they moved further back. Reich said both kickers would play a half against Buffalo. As of now, Hot Rob is the leader in the clubhouse.
  • Speaking of leaders in the clubhouse, Phillip Lindsay is the clear RB3 behind Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Lindsay was signed in the offseason following his release from the Miami Dolphins. One of the most productive UDFAs in recent history, Lindsay’s pass-catching skills have been on display while also subbing in to give Taylor or Hines a breather.
  • For all the highlight-reel plays Alec Piece has made in camp, they have been few and far between once it moves to 7-on-7s or 11-on-11s. Heading into today, Pierce has just three receptions in 11s against Gilmore. As for which WR has flashed the most, it’s Ashton Dulin. He had another deep catch today on a perfectly placed ball against Cover 3, with Ryan beating the closing safety. However, if it were live, Odeyingbo would have sacked Ryan before he had a chance to get it off.
  • LB Zaire Franklin almost scored one for the defense during 11-on-11s but dropped a would-be interception off Ryan. Franklin read the play all the way, sinking in the zone underneath the crosser.
  • The top four cornerbacks appear clear as the season draws closer: Stephon Gilmore, Kenny Moore II, Brandon Facyson, and Isaiah Rodgers. For now, the fifth spot is wide open, with Anthony Chesley, Chris Wilcox, and Tony Brown all having their moments in camp.

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