WESTFIELD — The battle for the swing tackle job has slid under the radar in a Colts training camp dominated by injuries, contract extensions, the rise of the young pass rushers and the development of two young quarterbacks.
But there is a chance it matters more than any of those storylines when Seattle travels to Indianapolis on Sept. 12 to open the season.
Whoever wins the job will likely start at left tackle against the Seahawks, taking the place of two-time Pro Bowler Eric Fisher, the veteran the Colts signed in free agency to replace Anthony Castonzo. Already a difficult task, the job gets tougher if All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson hasn’t returned from Aug. 3 surgery to remove a loose piece of bone from his left foot.
No front-runner has emerged after the first 10 practices of training camp. Sam Tevi and Will Holden have rotated with the first team at left tackle; Julién Davenport got his first chance at the position with the second team Sunday after returning from the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Both Tevi and Holden have struggled against Kwity Paye, Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu. Tevi, the former Chargers starter the Colts signed in free agency, has struggled to stay balanced against the speed of Paye and Turay, who have attacked his outside edge repeatedly. When Tevi can’t get into his pass set quickly enough, he’s given up pressure on the outside, and when he’s beaten the rusher to the spot, the lack of balance has left him susceptible to power moves.
Holden has spent a significant amount of his time lining up against Banogu, and the third-year rusher has been a dominant daily presence as a pass rusher. By IndyStar’s unofficial count, the Indianapolis defense would have had five “sacks” on Sunday —quarterbacks can’t be hit—and all five would have come from defensive ends: Paye, Turay, Al-Quadin Muhammad and two by Isaac Rochell.
If there is a silver lining to the battle so far, it’s that the Colts are optimistic about Fisher’s recovery from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in January. Indianapolis has not placed a timetable on Fisher’s return, but the team typically expects Achilles recoveries to take eight months.
“Watching a couple of his workouts, with our trainers working him out, I think he looks really good,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said Sunday. “In fact, I saw him doing something the other day, and I yelled over, ‘Put some pads on him!’”
The Colts signed Fisher knowing that he might have to miss four or five games at the start of the season. Indianapolis believed that 12 or 13 games of Fisher would be better than 17 games of anybody else on the market.
Always the optimist, Reich isn’t sure he’ll have to wait that long.
“Just talking to him, he’s got — this sounds corny, but I’m going to say it anyway — the eye of the tiger,” Reich said. “This guy is locked in. That’s what’s most important to me, is that the player has a mindset of, ‘I have to fight to get back Week 1, Week 2, whatever it is.’ I just sense that the man is doing everything he can to be back the very first day he can be back, and not a second later.”
The Colts need Fisher as soon as possible.
The Colts continue to give the majority of the offensive snaps to Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger, the two quarterbacks they drafted with third-day picks the past two seasons.
Eason and Ehlinger both had uneven days Sunday.
For example, Eason finished 11 of 18 and pushed the ball into the intermediate range a little bit more often, finding Zach Pascal, Nyheim Hines and Jack Doyle for nice completions in the middle of the field, plus a nice recognition and a quick swing pass to a wide-open Marlon Mack in the flat that would have produced big yardage.
But he also had some issues with accuracy and timing. Eason badly overthrew T.Y. Hilton on an out route, and the ball sailed into the waiting arms of cornerback T.J. Carrie for the quarterback’s sixth interception in 11 on 11 work so far. Eason also had throws batted away, in part because they seemed to get to the receiver a tick late, by Bobby Okereke, Zaire Franklin, Xavier Rhodes and Rock Ya-Sin; Rhodes and Ya-Sin almost came away with interceptions.
Ehlinger finished 12 of 15 and made some nice plays on the move, showcasing the scrambling ability he used so effectively at Texas. Facing a 3rd and long in the two-minute drill, Ehlinger evaded the rush, rolled left and found a wide-open Dezmon Patmon down the sideline for a 45-yard gain, a rare deep-ball completion in this camp and the highlight of the day. Patmon caught three passes in that final sequence.
For the most part, though, Ehlinger’s completions were short, and he had a few passes flutter on him in passing drills and 11-on-11 work. The rookie also tossed his first 11-on-11 interception of camp in a last-second situation, firing up a Hail Mary of sorts that Andre Chachere jumped in front of Mike Strachan to take it away. Isaiah Rodgers also nearly picked off Ehlinger in the two-minute, letting a fluttering misfire slip through his hands.
No days off
Free safety Julian Blackmon has missed the last two practices as the Colts try to be cautious with a minor knee injury, but the player the Colts believe can be a star was far from idle on the practice field.
Blackmon spent a significant part of the practice, particularly in 7-on-7, lined up far behind the secondary with his play sheet in hand, stepping forward and shouting calls and checks to the defensive backs in the lineup before the start of each play.
“Mentally stress so (you’re) physically prepared,” Blackmon tweeted later about his efforts.
All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner sat out his first practice of training camp after suffering a minor foot injury on Saturday.
“We feel good,” Reich said. “With the day off tomorrow, it was just like, ‘Let’s just be certain and be smart, and just make sure he kind of doesn’t have a setback.’ We will still take it day-by-day, but things are trending in the right direction.”
Buckner, Nelson (foot), quarterback Carson Wentz (foot), center Ryan Kelly (elbow), tight end Mo Alie-Cox (knee), tight end Kylen Granson (knee), tight end Noah Togiai (knee), wide receiver Ashton Dulin (hamstring), linebacker Jordan Glasgow (back), linebacker Skai Moore (back), defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth (hamstring), defensive end Damontre Moore (knee) and safety Nick Nelson (undisclosed) did not practice due to injury.
With so many tight ends out of action, the Colts signed former Princeton tight end Graham Adonitis and waived wide receiver Gary Jennings with an injury designation.
Rookie safety Shawn Davis, who had been battling a hamstring injury, practiced for the first time in training camp.
Right guard Mark Glowinski has been dominant in 1-on-1 pass rush drills this season, and defensive tackle Andrew Brown got a little frustrated after being stonewalled by the Colts starter on two consecutive snaps. Brown started a scuffle with Glowinski that was quickly broken up. … Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. continues to showcase the open-field running ability that made him dangerous as a rookie. … Veteran running back Jordan Wilkins, who missed a few days with a hamstring injury, turned in a couple of nice runs, picking his way through traffic and turning on the jets in the secondary.