The Indianapolis Colts start training camp next week where temperatures will be hot, but several Colts battles will be hotter. The team needs a spark, and these players could provide a much-needed boost.
With head coach Shane Steichen now leading the team, who will thrive under his leadership?
Here are the five under-the-radar Colts players to watch:
OT Blake Freeland
Transparently, the Colts’ offensive line needs help. The laundry list of issues that the line started with was inconsistent play last season, particularly on the right side. There are questions about who will play right guard with no free agent signed and Will Fries not guaranteed that spot.
Enter BYU offensive tackle Black Freeland, who could fit into multiple scenarios: depth behind Braden Smith or the new starting right tackle, kicking Smith inside to play guard, a position he played in college. While the former seems more likely, the latter presents an intriguing situation.
Freeland excels in run blocking (music to Jonathan Taylor’s ears) and is extremely intelligent in pass protection (a sweet symphony to Anthony Richardson). He’s also highly athletic, with long arms that stop defenders. Freeland could be a pleasant camp surprise.
With a motor that certainly impressed Chris Ballard during the Senior Bowl, Evan (the incredible) Hull is a name to watch. Hull is a former track and field star with receiving and special teams abilities. Additionally, he is a stellar athlete with fluid hips that could push Deon Jackson for the chance to be third-string depth behind Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss.
Perhaps most importantly, the team may have found a younger Nyheim Hines replacement who comes at a fraction of the cost. Hull has a unique opportunity at the training camp to show immediate impact and value at a position that could use the help.
TE Drew Ogeltree
Tight end Drew Ogletree might find himself as one of the camp storylines that (almost) no one saw coming. A former wide receiver, Ogletree has solid hands with impeccable speed and size. He made waves during training camp last year and quietly became a real threat to take over the top spot on the depth chart.
Unfortunately, an untimely ACL injury during a joint practice with the Lions cut Ogeltree’s campaign short. This was a significant blow to the offense, as the Colts saw Ogletree as a promising weapon to pair with Jelani Woods. If Ogletree can stay healthy, watch out, defenders.
Ballard loves his athletes, and it was no shock that he jumped at the opportunity to snag safety Nick Cross in the third round of the 2022 draft. The former Maryland safety ran an official 40-yard dash time of 4.34 and showed sideline-to-sideline tackling abilities. He also has a knack for stopping the run with good instincts that can’t be taught.
Unfortunately, Cross was limited to primarily special teams play as veteran safety Rodney McLeod excelled, leaving few opportunities to shine. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said Cross also needed more time to develop. With McLeod now with the Cleveland Browns, it could be time to elevate Cross.
TE Jelani Woods
Look in the dictionary under the word “superhuman;” you might find a picture of tight end Jelani Woods. At 6’7″ and 253 pounds, he is a walking mismatch for defenses. Woods had a quiet training camp last season, primarily working in the shadows of Ogletree and veteran Mo Alie-Cox. However, he had a huge “welcome to the NFL” moment in Week 3 against the Chiefs, where he scored two touchdowns, including the game-winner.
Unfortunately, because of the inconsistencies of the team’s offense, fans only saw flashes of Woods’ potential. With a new coaching staff and a revamped offensive scheme, Woods is an early sleeper to challenge for team offensive MVP.
Story originally appeared on Colts Wire