The Indianapolis Colts welcomed the Chicago Bears to Grand Park this week for joint practices. The intensity was paramount, as there was no shortage of trash talk and scrums. Here are six takeaways from the two-day event and what it all means heading into the team’s second preseason contest.
No. 1: Anthony Richardson’s Accuracy Is Still Sporadic, But Improving
On Wednesday, ESPN’s Stephen Holder sent a post stating that Anthony Richardson had his “worst day of training camp yet”. This notion received immediate pushback. It even led Holder to delete it and explain his statement further. Regardless, Colts fans didn’t want to hear it.
For what it’s worth, I saw things differently than Holder did on Wednesday. Richardson completed 16-of-20 passes, and sure, a lot of them were underneath throws. But isn’t that an area we all want to see more from the young quarterback? He can throw the deep ball as well as anyone, but the timing routes have been his kryptonite.
Richardson took what the Chicago defense gave him, moved the football with his arm and legs, and never looked overwhelmed. That is all you can ask for from a 21-year-old signal-caller that is still developing.
On Thursday, it was a little bit more of a mixed bag for Richardson — but that was the case for all the Colts. We don’t yet know whether the former Florida Gator will suit up for his Lucas Oil debut Saturday. Fellow quarterback Justin Fields has already been ruled out.
No. 2: The Colts Have A Big Problem At Right Guard
No matter how you slice it, against starters or backups, the Colts have a major issue at right guard. General manager Chris Ballard did nothing to address the gaping hole at the position. Will Fries was the incumbent starter, but after a lackluster offseason thus far, it is no longer a sure thing.
Some fans, myself included, hoped that Emil Ekiyor, an undrafted lineman out of Alabama, could prove himself a steal for Ballard and Co. Alas, the rookie has often been overpowered by the bigger bodies in the NFL. In the team’s opening week vs. the Bills, Ekiyor looked lost. Former fifth-rounder Danny Pinter does little to inspire faith, either.
So, what is the solution? It is time that the Colts consider bringing in one of the established veterans still remaining on the free-agent market. Dalton Risner, Andrew Norwell, and Gabe Jackson all make sense. They all would provide immediate competition for the starting role at right guard. Protect Richardson at all costs.
No. 3: Kwity Paye’s Leap Could Happen In 2023
Kwity Paye recorded multiple sacks during the Thursday portion of joint practices. That came after logging one takedown the day prior while consistently finding his way into the backfield to disrupt Fields and the offense. Paye is ready to take a much-needed leap in his development in 2023.
The former first-rounder has been good-not-great since entering the league. An injury in Year 1 got the Michigan product off to a slow start, but after six sacks in his second season, all signs are pointing up for the young pass rusher.
The Colts have not had a legitimate superstar pass rusher since Robert Mathis rode off into the sunset years ago. It may be unfair for fans to place those lofty expectations on Paye, but it comes with the territory; just like Richardson filling Luck and Manning’s shoes.
No. 4: The Colts Secondary Is Still Finding Its Way
One noticeable weakness at joint practices was the Colts’ secondary. It’s not that any player performed terribly — most held up relatively well. However, it is clear that these guys don’t have many on-field reps together yet.
The continuity is lacking, and miscommunications were frequent this week. That is to be expected when a team overhauls a position group as much as Indy has at cornerback. JuJu Brents, Darius Rush, and Jaylon Jones look like capable starters on Sundays but must continue developing trust between themselves.
D.J. Moore and Justin Fields took advantage of this inexperience several times, leading to chunk yardage from the Bears during the scrimmage portion. Even so, the pieces are in place to form a stout cornerback room in the near future. The youngsters just need some time to marinate.
No. 5: The Colts Must Make Room For Grant Stuard On The 53-Man Roster
Grant Stuard has been a revelation this offseason. He became Mr. Irrelevant in 2021 after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him with the final pick of the NFL Draft. Stuard never found a path to playing time as a rookie, leading to the Colts making a trade for him before the 2022 season began.
Since then, Stuard has put his head down and grinded for every opportunity. And all of that hard work is finally starting to pay off. The Houston Cougar alum flies around the field with reckless abandon. He is never out of a play and has the potential to be one of the best special team gunners in the NFL.
His overflowing locks make Stuard stick out like a sore thumb. His burst and first step when pursuing a tackle elicits “oohs” and “awes” from the crowd every time. Whether it is as the LB4 or as a special teams gunner, Stuard must make the roster.
No. 6: Michael Pittman Jr. Loves To Talk Trash
The Bears are led by former Colts defensive coordinator, Matt Eberflus, creating a homecoming of sorts for the first-time head coach. His former players and former colleagues on the coaching staff greeted him with open arms this week. But don’t let the camaraderie fool you.
Rather than holding hands and singing songs around the campfire, the two sides have been engaged in heated battles since the first practice began on Wednesday. Frustrations came to a head multiple times as wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. chirped back and forth with the Bears secondary.
At one point, Pittman and cornerback Jaylon Johnson got into it, causing a massive pile of teammates trying to break up the fight. This isn’t new territory for MPJ; he is a vocal player who always lets his personality shine. That may not jive well with his opponents, but it is why the Colts’ locker room loves Pitt.
Indy will play its only home preseason game this Saturday against the Bears — a rematch of the 2006 Super Bowl in which the Colts won 29-17. The contest this weekend doesn’t hold anywhere near the same weight, but given where each franchise is, it could serve as a jump-off point.
However, it is unlikely that many starters (on either side) play much, if at all, as is customary with the second preseason game for most teams. The Bears have already ruled out a majority of their starters, but the Colts have yet to do the same.
Saturday is more important for the players without a locked-in spot on the roster. Even if Richardson and the top of the depth chart sit out, there is still plenty to learn from the guys behind them. Preseason action may be boring at times, but it is necessary. Every rep matters.
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