WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich enjoyed watching Thursday’s spirited joint practice with Detroit.
He praised the fiery play, the build-up, even the chippiness and the verbal fights. Lions quarterback Jared Goff just enjoyed working against a different defense – once he settled in.
It was a good start to a long and busy week for two teams that will hold another practice in suburban Indianapolis on Thursday before playing a preseason game on Saturday.
“It got warmer. It was perfect, it was perfect,” Reich said. “I want to congratulate the players and coaches of the Lions and our players and coaches for the way they handled the situation. It was exactly the intensity and the work that we wanted to do. I think both teams have improved today.
Indy’s offense, led by new quarterback Matt Ryan and defending league running champion Jonathan Taylor, seemed to have the upper hand over the Lions defense.
And after an admittedly slow start, Goff thought the Lions offense was doing relatively well against the Indy defense.
But the big crowd didn’t make it to the Indy training camp site, nestled among the state’s famous cornfields, just to watch practice. They wanted to see dust and the Lions and Colts had to.
The first happened about an hour into practice when an Indianapolis player was pushed out of bounds and into teammates on a punt return. This resulted in a few minor scrambles and drew a flag from the officials.
About 15 minutes later, Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. took offense at Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah by throwing him to the ground at the end of a play. Pittman, who confused his own teammates, responded with a push as the argument continued on the pitch.
Eventually, Taylor and three-time All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson broke up the game as players from both teams rallied.
Reich generally disapproved of skirmishes although he was content to see no escalation. Players from both teams expected there to be some punches this week. Goff thinks there could be more on Thursday.
“It’s funny. It’s hectic at times, but you want to compete,” he said. “If you’re not going to play in a game, that’s the next best thing we’re going to get and in some cases it’s even better because the risk of injury is limited, right? You can control it and do whatever you want.
However, neither team came out of Matchday 1 unscathed.
Colts tight end Drew Ogletree suffered a non-contact right knee injury about halfway through practice. He needed help getting off the pitch and Reich told reporters the injury appeared to be “significant”. The rookie had played well enough in camp to sit in third place on the depth chart.
Lions tight end Devin Funchess also left early with what appeared to be a right shoulder or arm injury. The former Michigan star got in on the action after a solid performance Friday against Atlanta. Funchess has only played one game in the past three seasons — the first game of 2019 with the Colts.
Still, it was the kind of change both teams needed after three monotonous weeks of training camp.
“It’s high intensity, the coaches preach go against another team so everybody brings the juice,” Lions rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez said. “I feel like today’s guys had that juice.”
The environment also helped.
The music blared for nearly two hours as the stands spanning nearly two football pitches approached its 7,000-seat capacity. Colts owner Jim Irsay also attended practice, telling reporters he remained hopeful of getting a contract extension with Nelson.
Even the costumed Indy “super fan” appeared in full gear.
And, of course, HBO’s “Hard Knocks” crew filmed it all. The program that featured Indianapolis in the inaugural edition of last year’s season now follows the Lions and coach Dan Campbell for their series of traditional training camps.
Nobody cared. In fact, Ryan and the Colts looked as sharp Wednesday as they have all summer.
“It’s part of football,” Colts wide receiver Ashton Dulin said after making several contested catches, including one in the end zone. “It gets a little hectic at times, you have to react. You just gotta keep your cool, keep your head up. It was like that, keep playing football.