It was another hot and humid day down in Westfield as the Indianapolis Colts put on the pads for the first time.
There is a different feel around practice when the pads go on. Due to the CBA, teams only have a certain number of days they can practice in full pads during the preseason. But with pads comes a new level of intensity.
“Football starts today,” quipped Colts quarterback Matt Ryan after practice had concluded.
In a day that focused on a lot of red zone work, the defense had an edge throughout the day. The defense won two of the last three reps to end practice, forcing the offense to run sprints after the session. After an hour and a half of practice, that is not something anyone wants to do.
“Not great, not great,” Ryan chuckled when asked how he felt running sprints. “I went down pretty hard on one of them. It was a little slick. But we’ve got to win those periods at the end as an offense, but it’s good stuff. It’s good for us.”
It is normal for the defense to be ahead of the offense at this point in camp. But that does not mean Ryan and the offense are making excuses. Instead, the Colts’ offense is trying to get better every single day to maximize what the group can accomplish.
A focus of head coach Frank Reich and the Colts front office since the 2021 season ended has been to be less predictable on offense. Indy became very run-centric to end the year with the ascension of Jonathan Taylor and the decline of Carson Wentz. With the addition of Ryan at quarterback, involving Nyheim Hines more in the passing game, and getting contributions from Parris Campbell and Alec Pierce, the pieces are in place for a much different Colts’ offense in 2022.
“The game has changed a lot but winning on both sides of the line of scrimmage still counts,” Ryan explained. “The way this team has run the football here for the last handful of years, the back that we have in Jonathan and also as kind of a change-up in Nyheim and what he can do. It’s dynamic.”
Ryan knows how much a good running game can make a quarterback’s life easier. After experiencing the best seasons of his career with Michael Turner and Devonta Freeman in the backfield with the Atlanta Falcons, the presence of a running game opens up the playbook. After a season in which Taylor led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns, defenses may have to pick their poison on who they try to stop.
“It’s great as a quarterback,” he admitted. “It helps in so many ways. It helps in pass protection, it creates lanes to throw, it gets suck on play-action. It does a lot of the things that you like. It also wears down a defense. You will find no bigger proponent of the run game than myself and I’m fired up to play with these guys.”
Not only has Ryan noticed what this offense is capable of, but Reich has as well. Reich wants his offense to use play-action to open things up down the field, becoming more of a timing-based scheme. Ryan allows the Colts to do this, reverting to a style of offense the team used in 2020 with Philip Rivers and in 2018 with Andrew Luck.
“We want to be a run, play-action team and then be efficient and excellent in situational football,” Reich said after practice Tuesday. “Matt brings all of that. He’s great run, play-action, and he likes being under center. So, we’ll mix under center and in gun. He’s been good his whole career in situational football and then on top of that, he’s got that clutch gene – that in (the) fourth quarter he’s come through in the clutch many times. I really think the team is put together and gelling in the right direction.”
Ryan has continued to be everything the Colts have hoped for and more. He has taken command of the Colts’ offense and brought a sense of urgency to the team, pushing up-tempo practices that lead the team to finish early each day. His leadership and attention to detail, combined with his football IQ and pinpoint accuracy, have wowed teammates since the moment he touched down in Indy.
“I think he (Matt Ryan) is a great leader first off,” wide receiver Ashton Dulin acknowledged. “Takes everybody and holds everybody accountable to the same standard whether you are the first guy on the depth chart or the last guy. Every guy is held to the same standard. That brings everyone together as a room. It elevates everybody’s game. He will quiz you out of the blue in the hallway like what do you got on this play? It’s fun. He is great to be around, a great leader, a great person, and couldn’t be happier to have him.”
It is easy to say these things at the beginning of August when things are clicking. But the Colts believe this will carry over to the regular season, expecting a much more dynamic and efficient offense in 2022. Not only is the running game as strong as it was a year ago, but the quarterback position looks to have undergone a serious improvement also.
As the pads go on, the confidence of the Colts grows, and that should put the rest of the league on notice.
Do you think the Colts' offense will be more dynamic with Matt Ryan under center? Let us know in the comments below!
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