ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — The injuries are already piling up in Indianapolis.
On Thursday, the Colts put starting left guard Donald Thomas on season-ending injured reserve with a torn right quad, the same diagnosis that ended his 2013 season after just two games.
The move comes one day after running back Vick Ballard had season-ending surgery to fix a torn left Achilles’ tendon. And training camp is barely a week old.
“Donald worked extremely hard just like Vick to get back. We feel awful for Donald just like Vick,” coach Chuck Pagano said after a morning walkthrough. “Donald will be fine. He is a strong-minded young man and will go back to work to rehab.”
But that’s no consolation to the 6-foot-3, 303-pounder who was trying to come back from the torn quad and a torn biceps.
He was injured late in Wednesday’s practice after he wound up in a pile on the ground. The frustration showed immediately as Thomas slapped the ground and then limped behind a wall of teammates.
As he attempted to walk off the injury, he grabbed his head with both hands and walked from the far end of the practice field all the way to the locker room.
Colts officials had hoped for the best, but a late-night MRI confirmed their worst fears — Thomas had re-torn the same quad.
By Friday morning, Thomas was loading his belongings into his truck bed and preparing to head home from Anderson University.
“He’s a tough guy. He goes out there with a chip on his shoulder every day and he competes and he plays hard through the whistle, that’s one thing I really admire about him,” rookie Jack Mewhort said. “Like I said, it’s very unfortunate just because he was having such a great camp and he’s a heck of a player.”
Indianapolis thought Thomas’ return would help solidify an offensive line that couldn’t stay healthy, struggled to open running lanes and allowed far too many hits on franchise quarterback Andrew Luck in 2013.
General manager Ryan Grigson rebuilt the line again during the offseason. He released center Samson Satele and allowed starting guard and backup center Mike McGlynn to walk away in free agency, signed former Chicago Bears guard Lance Louis and drafted Mewhort in the second round and Ulrick John in the seventh.
Now it looks as if they’ll need even more help.
Mewhort, Indy’s first draft pick in May, is big and versatile. He started at left guard, right guard and left tackle at Ohio State where he also served as a backup center.
That’s where the Colts initially plugged him in during their offseason workouts and where he is now likely to compete with Louis for the starting job.
If Mewhort wins the job, the Colts would have one of the youngest interior lines in the league with Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes at center.
Thornton and Holmes are both in their second year, and although Thornton started 12 games last season, mostly at left guard, Holmes played just 12 offensive snaps last season.
“My perspective has not changed. Coming into this camp, my mindset was to compete and that’s what I’ve been doing and that’s what I intend to do my whole career in the NFL,” Mewhort said.
Meanwhile, Indy has three players on injured reserve — Thomas, defensive lineman Fili Moala (knee) and linebacker Aaron Morgan (shoulder) — and a fourth, Ballard, expected to join them. Indy’s top fullback, Stanley Havili, is on the physically unable to perform list as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Last year’s leading receiver, T.Y. Hilton, missed the end of Wednesday’s afternoon practice after jamming a finger on his right hand. And although running back Trent Richardson practiced in shoulder pads for the first time Wednesday, three other starters — tight end Dwayne Allen, cornerback Vontae Davis and safety LaRon Landry — sat out.
But the loss of Thomas and Ballard were the most disconcerting because each spent nearly 10 months rehabbing from last year’s injuries and neither even made it to the first preseason game.
“We had a plan for all those guys. Donald was one of those guys that would practice two days and be off a day,” Pagano said. “We’re going to look at the tape and see how things happen, we know some are non-contact, look at what happened to Donald. It’s unfortunate but we are doing our due diligence and weighing every part of football.”