WESTFIELD — The end of Thursday’s nearly two-hour practice at Grand Park played out like the frantic final minutes of a regular-season game.
The Indianapolis Colts’ offense got three cracks at a two-minute drill, needing a field goal to tie and a touchdown to win. The defense — which has consistently gotten the better of practices through the opening week, especially in full pads — stonewalled the offense on two of the three tries.
Even the lone scoring drive required both kickers on the roster to connect on 49-yard field goals.
“We only needed three, so we were at least able to tie it up right there,” offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. “They did stop us on the first two drives, though. The defense looked really good. They were getting pressure on the quarterback — a lot of good film for us to coach off of and get better physically, getting the techniques.
“We’re actually getting a lot of live reps of full-speed pass rush, and you can feel it. The defense is doing a great job getting after us. It’s a chance for us to continue to compete and get better.”
The first drive — with the starters in on both sides of the ball — was the most impressive.
Veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore started things with an emphatic bat down of a pass intended for Michael Pittman Jr. on first down. Safety Julian Blackmon then accomplished the rare feat of winning a rep against wide receiver Parris Campbell on a crosser.
On third down, quarterback Matt Ryan was “sacked” by defensive ends Ifeadi Odenigbo and Yannick Ngakoue.
“We’re always going to ask more of them, right?” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “But I thought there were some good rushes. We’re able to see it in one-on-one, but it’s one of those things — like a two-minute thing that we had where it’s play-after-play, that mentality to have that. So we’re building it. It’s a work in progress.”
The second team had a little more success, advancing the ball near midfield before Odenigbo again ended things with a third-down sack.
The first team returned with a strong start on the final drive. Ryan was 4-for-4 to start the series — including a pair of completions to Pittman — to get the offense into scoring position.
But pressure forced Ryan to throw the ball away on first down after the offense crossed the 50-yard line. Gilmore used a bone-rattling hit to knock the ball away from rookie wide receiver Alec Pierce on second down, and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner swallowed running back Nyheim Hines in the back field on third-and-10.
Rodrigo Blankenship and Jake Verity each successfully connected on long field-goals to end practice.
“I think it’s a little bit of a work in progress where we kind of feel each other’s philosophy in different situations,” Bradley said. “Any days that you have that (situational football), where you can talk about how you’re going to handle (it) or what’s the mindset going into it is good. So good work today.”
PLAY OF THE DAY
Gilmore’s rib-rattling hit on Pierce was a drive killer. The rookie won the battle off the line of scrimmage and seemed poised for a reception that would keep the march to the end zone alive.
But Gilmore closed the gap in an instant and hit the receiver with such force the ball was immediately jarred loose.
It was just the most recent example of the value the veteran adds to the defensive secondary.
“It’s a group that’s kind of building that cohesiveness,” Bradley said. “As you know, Gilmore is not only covering, but you’ve got to be able to tackle (the receiver) and play physically. To play at the level he’s done, that’s how he plays. I think that’s a good message to all of them.”
Ryan had another strong performance overall. He started practice 6-for-6 in 11-on-11 drills, with completions to six different receivers. He finished 11-of-15 with a touchdown to tight end Mo Alie-Cox.
Through the first week of practices, Ryan is 50-of-63 in full-team drills with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
“The quarterbacks are doing a great job,” Brady said. “(Quarterbacks coach) Scott (Milanovich) is doing a great job. He is making it competitive, trying to limit those (turnovers). Obviously, there are consequences if they do (throw a pick). Fun consequences, but just to get them competitive and being protective of the ball and making good decisions — understanding that whether a punt is a good play or we got really good (running) backs, check it down. We don’t have to force anything. (The backs) can make plays as well.”
THEY SAID IT
“It’s awesome. I mean, that’s exactly what you want. But everyone knows how a good player Buck is. So to be able to have that guy to go against every single day, it makes you better. No doubt.” — right guard Danny Pinter on matching up against All-Pro DeForest Buckner.
Wide receiver DeMichael Harris, running back D’Vonta Pierce, safety Armani Watts, linebacker Brandon King, linebacker Forrest Rhyne, defensive tackle Byron Cowart, offensive tackle Dennis Kelly and defensive tackle Chris Williams did not participate in Thursday’s practice.
Center Ryan Kelly went to the ground during an early running play and briefly came out of team drills, but he returned to practice.
Linebacker Shaquille Leonard (ankle) and wide receiver Mike Strachan (knee) remain on the physically unable to perform list.