ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — The Colts went to training camp searching for answers.
They went home with even more questions.
On Wednesday, Indianapolis celebrated the end of workouts at Anderson University with players hooting, hollering and even jumping after an assistant coach fielded a punt from a JUGS machine to stop practice 40 minutes early.
It was a stark contrast to the hard knocks the Colts endured over the previous three weeks.
“I think as long as we stay on track and, knock on wood, we can avoid the injury bug I know we’ve had some to this point,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “If we stay healthy, I think this team has the potential to do some great things this year.”
That’s a big if, given the Colts recent history.
A year ago, five offensive starters sustained season-ending injuries before the end of October. Indy also finished the regular season with six different offensive line combinations in the last six games.
It didn’t take long for the injuries to start piling up this year, either.
Two days into practice, they lost running back Vick Ballard for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
Four days after that, they lost starting left guard Donald Thomas for the second straight year with a season-ending torn right quad.
Last week, in their preseason opener, linebacker Daniel Adongo (ruptured biceps) and defensive lineman Jeris Pendleton (torn ACL), both backups, were lost for the season and two young offensive linemen also were injured.
Starting center Khaled Holmes is expected to miss at least one or two more weeks with a sprained right ankle and rookie offensive lineman Ulrick John could miss the rest of the season with a lower right leg injury.
Pagano’s adjustment with only two undrafted rookies on the roster was to re-sign Thomas Austin, who played in one game last year with Indy, and having second-round draft pick Jack Mewhort to take some snaps at center Saturday in addition to his duties at left guard. Mewhort’s sore right knee then flared up and he hasn’t practiced since then.
While some are concerned about how this young group will hold up in game conditions, Andrew Luck isn’t one of them.
“I’m very comfortable with all the changes and what’s going on,” he said. “I think we’ve seen a bunch of guys, not just five guys, who can really play football. They’re a pleasure to play behind, they’re good dudes so no qualms at all about what’s going on there.”
It’s not just the new injuries.
Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne is returning from a torn ACL and at age 35 and has repeatedly said he’s eager to play. Pagano has been cautious with Wayne in camp and held him out of last week’s loss to the Jets and he may not play Saturday against the Giants, either.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who had neck surgery last October, has been wearing a red jersey since Saturday as Indy protects him from taking hits.
Half of the Colts’ projected starting secondary, cornerback Vontae Davis and safety LaRon Landry, missed significant time in camp because of what Pagano called “soft tissue” injuries, and position battles at left guard or the second safety spot have not yet produced winners.
Indy needs a big season out of Trent Richardson and he has looked better in practice, but saw limited action against the Jets.
Pagano will get a longer look at many of those players Saturday as he plans to use the starters for about one quarter.
“That’s the plan right now, and then we’ll see how that goes,” he said. “If we have two drives like we had in the first ballgame, you’ve got a 10, 12-play drive and you’ve got a couple scores, then it might be time to pull him (Luck) before the first quarter (ends).”
As for the questions, Luck doesn’t believe it’s a major concern. After all, the Colts have about 3½ weeks to find some key answers — and open a whole new round of debate.
“You know, how good the new guys on the team are. I think you can tell that the first days, OTAs when they go out and work,” Luck said. “But I wouldn’t say the process is over by any means. There are still three preseason games left and again, we’re still in training camp mode and trying to find new questions to answer.”
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