INDIANAPOLIS – The message seldom varies.
Prove you belong. Give us a reason to keep you around.
Frank Reich delivered the familiar talking points to a fresh collection of prospects Friday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center, and included visual aids.
As roughly 60 players – draft picks, undrafted rookies, tryouts – gathered for breakfast as a prelude to hitting the practice field for the Indianapolis Colts’ first rookie minicamp session, Reich turned everyone’s attention to a big video screen. He pressed a button on the remote and offered evidence there’s a roster spot for anyone who earns it.
There was Jeff Saturday in action. And Antonio Bethea.
“Those are two guys – one’s a sixth-rounder (Bethea) and an undrafted guy – that came in here and really made their name a household staple,’’ Reich said. “We all have an opportunity.
“That’s what all these guys have, and they’re going to get plenty of reps to show that.’’
Saturday went undrafted out of North Carolina in 1998, was signed as a rookie free agent by the Baltimore Ravens but cut prior to training camp. He returned to Raleigh, N.C. and worked at an electrical supply store before the Colts called about non-electrical supply issues.
From 1999-2011, Saturday established himself as one of the NFL’s premier centers. He started 188 regular-season games, was first-team All-Pro twice, a six-time Pro Bowl selection and a cornerstone of the 2006 world championship team. His name is included on the Ring of Honor at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Bethea? A 2006 6th-round pick who showed he belonged from the first day he stepped on the practice field. He would start 123 games in eight seasons with the Colts – 200 starts in 14 years overall following stints with San Francisco, Arizona and the New York Giants – and earn two Pro Bowl nods.
Prove you belong. Give them a reason to keep you around.
Saturday and Bethea are on the high-end of the obscure-to-stardom spectrum, but aren’t outliers.
Last season, the Colts’ streak of having at least one undrafted rookie on the opening-day roster ended at 22. But the 53-player roster for the season-opener against Seattle included 11 players who went undrafted. That included three starters – tight end Jack Doyle, wideout Zach Pascal and nickel corner Kenny Moore II – along with tight end Mo Alie-Cox, punter Rigoberto Sanchez, kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, long snapper Luke Rhodes, defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth and special teams standouts George Odum and Ashton Dulin.
It’s only natural for much of the offseason attention to focus sharpest on the eight-player draft class.
Second-round wideout Alec Pierce enjoyed a solid debut before leaving prior to the end of practice.
“I think he’s fine,’’ Reich said. “I think just a little bit of dehydration and just wanting to play it safe.’’
Third-round tight end Jelanie Woods measured up to his draft-day hype. The 6-7, 253-pounder used his size and speed for mismatch opportunities in passing drills.
“Yeah, you can feel it,’’ Reich said. “Jelani is a big man. I mean, my goodness. You can just feel him when he’s out there on the field.’’
Bernhard Raimann, the other 3rd-round pick, spent the day at what likely will be his primary position until things crystalize along the offensive line. Initially, he will be allowed to develop at left tackle. Returnee Matt Pryor is the early front-runner for the starting position, but Raimann isn’t conceding anything.
“I’m going to prepare as if I was the starter every single day,’’ Raimann said. “I’m going to keep improving. I’m not perfect by any means, but I’m gonna get better every single day.
“I’m going to work on myself and I think that’s all I can do: work my butt off and come in here and grind every day.’’
As much as Reich and general manager Chris Ballard hope to get immediate contributions from portions of their draft class, they realize help can come from anyone, regardless of NFL entry status.
To enhance every player’s opportunity, Reich and his staff aren’t delving too deeply into their playbooks this weekend.
“We don’t throw too much at them,’’ he said, “but just want to make sure, ‘Can you handle it mentally and still play fast? Get out here and show some consistency.’
“We realize everyone is going to make mistakes, everybody is learning. That’s fine. But then you’re always looking for just athletic movement. All the stuff we saw on tape and that we studied, you want to see that at work out here.’’
How about Nick Foles?
Questions persist whether the Colts will add a veteran presence behind starting quarterback Matt Ryan, and how that might be Nick Foles.
That’s still part of the team’s internal discussions. The only other quarterbacks on the roster are Sam Ehlinger, James Morgan and undrafted rookie Jack Coan.
“Chris and I, you know how we roll. It’s 24/7/365,’’ Reich said. “Is this roster where it needs to be at every position? So that’s kind of the ongoing conversation at all times and at every position.’’
Reich was asked specifically about Foles, who recently was released by the Chicago Bears. The two have history with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“We’re always looking at who makes this team better at every position,’’ Reich said. “Who are the available veterans? Who can we still sign?
“We’ve talked about this a lot. Chris is very methodical about that process. We’re not in a rush. There is a timing to the way things go and they way the roster is put together that is very intentional.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.