Indianapolis Colts: What We've Learned About Every Positional Unit in Preseason
After weeks of beating up on each other, the Colts got the chance to beat up on the Rams in Week 1 of the preseason, and beat up on them they did. The Colts defeated the Rams, 38-3, in front of a frenzied crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium.
We got a chance to see Andrew Luck for the first time in actual game action. We saw the Colts' new offense under Bruce Arians. We saw the new 3-4 defense in action. We also got a chance to see where some of the new faces fit in.
And although the Colts were competing with the Rams this Sunday, many were also competing with each other as the battle for roster spots intensifies.
So what did we learn about each positional unit after the drubbing of the Rams? Read on to find out.
When Tony Dungy visited the Colts training camp in July, he was very impressed with Andrew Luck, saying, "(The Colts) are going to be in good hands."
After Sunday's performance against the Rams, it's safe to say everyone watching walked away very impressed with Andrew Luck.
It's becoming cliche to say this, but Luck looked more like a third or fourth-year veteran out there than a rookie making his first start. He commanded the offense, scrambled away from pressure, threw the ball away when he had to and completed some brilliant throws.
Luck finished 10-of-16 for 188 yards and two touchdowns. In four possessions, he led the Colts on three touchdown drives.
After Luck's exit in the second quarter, Drew Stanton and Chandler Harnish (who both would've started for the Colts last season) showed that the Colts' days of not having a competent backup quarterback are over. They combined to go 11-of-14 for 135 yards and a touchdown.
When it comes to the quarterback position, the Colts are in good hands.
We've heard plenty of times this offseason about Chuck Pagano's intent to establish the run. Sunday, the Colts ran for 116 yards on 32 carries. A 3.6 yards-per-carry average. That's better than Colts fans have seen the last few years.
Starting running back Donald Brown had the big play of the game, taking Andrew Luck's first pass 63 yards for the score. Brown's always had great breakaway speed. Hopefully, the Colts can continue to get him the ball in places where he can show it.
As for rushing the ball, Brown had just two carries for two yards.
The backup running backs performed pretty well too. Second-stringer Mewelde Moore showed the best pass protections skills of the bunch. He picked up nine yards on one reception and four yards on two rushes.
Delone Carter and rookie Vick Ballard showed some power running, as they combined for 45 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown.
Darren Evans scored a touchdown, but also fumbled. Deji Karim had 14 yards on four carries.
Brown, Moore, Carter and Ballard still look like the guys that will make the final 53-man roster.
One other thing to take away from the running game, the Colts picked up a few tough short-yardage first downs. In the past, those play have been nightmarish. Definitely a step in the right direction.
It was an up-and-down day for the receivers, but mostly up. There were great catches, but there were also some inexcusable drops.
Reggie Wayne played very little. He finished his short day without a reception and was only targeted once. The No. 2 receiver, Austin Collie, had a productive day with three catches for 45 yards. He was on the receiving end of Luck's second touchdown pass, a 23-yard strike to the end zone. The chemistry between Luck and Collie has been visible at camp, and showed Sunday as well.
Donnie Avery sat out the game with a thigh injury. He's looked good in camp, but with his injury history, he really needs to get back on the field to hold off these young receivers. Rookie T.Y. Hilton and Lavon Brazill both looked good.
Brazill did have a bad drop, but made up for it with a nice one-handed grab for a first down. Hilton also had a great catch as he tiptoed along the sideline, picking up a first down.
Quan Cosby also made a good case for himself with three catches for 44 yards, including a tough catch over the middle and down to the one-yard line.
The two rookie tight ends, who are expected to be such a big part of this offense, did not show up on the stat sheet, but they did impact the game. Coby Fleener had one catch and one drop. Dwayne Allen was not targeted during the game.
Despite the lack of offensive numbers, Fleener and Allen contributed with their blocking. You have to look no further than the first play for the Colts offense. On the screen pass to Donald Brown, that Brown turned in to a 63-yard score, both Fleener and Allen had good blocks that allowed Brown to get past the defense.
Don't worry about the lack of catches/targets. Fleener and Allen will get theirs soon enough.
Dominique Jones showed some versatility, lining up at fullback, taking the hand-off for three yards and converting a short third down. He also had one catch for 22 yards.
Kyle Miller also had one catch for nine yards.
Gone are the days of Dallas Clark playing the tight end like a third wide receiver. The tight end position for this Colts team has to be very versatile. Bruce Arians will move them around, and they will impact all areas of the offense.
The offensive line didn't do much to silence its critics early on in the preseason game. Too many times, Rams linemen and linebackers seemed to have a free shot on Luck. Thankfully, Luck was able to scramble out of trouble.
Shaking my head while I was watching this, I couldn't help but think, Andrew Luck, the franchise, is going to get killed back there.
Then, I read this in Phil Wilson's blog for the Indianapolis Star:
While the initial inclination is to slam the offensive line, I talked to offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who informed the Rams were blitzing extra guys and overloading sides to try to get to Luck early. When the Colts’ line adjusted, we saw the offense move the ball efficiently.
So at least there's an explanation for how it looked early on.
As I mentioned on the running back slide, the Colts did pick up first downs in a number of short-yardage situations. That doesn't happen without a good push from your offensive line. Definitely a positive.
Joe Reitz started at left guard despite Jeff Linkenbach being listed ahead of him on the depth chart. Not a big surprise, as Reitz should be starting ahead of Linkenbach, but worth noting.
Anthony Castonzo is looking more and more like he'll be a big-time NFL left tackle. On the other side, it seemed like a rough day for Winston Justice. I remember him getting beat a few times. Hopefully he can turn that around by next Sunday when the Colts travel to Pittsburgh.
Injruy news: Guard Mike McGlynn left the game with a sprained knee. If he misses any amount of time, that's a big blow. McGlynn has turned in to a vocal leader on the Colts offensive line.
The leader of the defensive line, Cory Redding, missed the first preseason game against the Rams with an elbow injury. His teammates along the line fared pretty well without him., although they did have some trouble containing Steven Jackson early on.
The Colts settled down and allowed just 68 yards rushing. The line seemed to hold its own against the Rams offensive line. There were plays where they got some good push in to the backfield. They occupied multiple blockers when linebackers like Mathis, Conner and Hughes (yes, Hughes, more on him later) were able to pressure the quarterback.
The player that stood out to me was Drake Nevis. I had questions about him moving from a 4-3 defensive tackle to a 3-4 defensive end, but he played well. He was able to get some penetration and took on multiple blockers. He also showed good quickness and pursuit.
The depth chart doesn't change, though. The starters should still be Redding, Johnson and Moala.
The linebackers were a big area of interest heading in to Week 1 of the preseason. How would Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis looks as linebackers? Neither played very long, but they both looked OK when they were in there.
As expected, Freeney rushed the quarterback from different angles the majority of the time, although he did drop in to coverage once. Mathis dropped back a few more times, but got in to Sam Bradford's face and forced the quarterback to miss his receiver. Obviously, we still need to see more from both before the move can be labeled a success.
Jerry Hughes! Where have you been all my life? The former first-round pick and frequently labled "bust" showed up in a big way with two sacks and multiple quarterback pressures. Perhaps the switch to the 3-4 will revive his career.
As for the inside linebackers, Kavell Conner looked very good. Pat Angerer, on the other hand, left the game with a foot injury. It was later reported that he suffered a fracture in his foot that will require surgery. He will miss at least six weeks.
The news was worse for backup linebacker Scott Lutrus. He will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.
The Colts will certainly scour the waiver wire for linebackers. In the meantime, new linebackers Greg Lloyd and Moise Fokuo will probably see more action.
It's worth noting that Jerrell Freeman and Mario Addison both played well on Sunday.
The question that needs to be answered during preseason is, who is going to start opposite of Jerraud Powers?
Justin King was given the job on Sunday and responded with a team-high six tackles. That seems somewhat deceiving to me, though. It looked like King was giving a 10 to 15-yard cushion to the receiver each time, which allowed the Rams to key in on him. Nevertheless, for now, the job seems to be King's.
Cassius Vaughn was the third cornerback and seems to have a firm grasp on that spot. Vaughn looked OK, as did fellow backup DJ Johnson. No one else really stood out to me, which is good and bad. Good because no one looked terrible. Bad because the Colts really need someone to stand out in a lackluster cornerback unit.
They did hold the Rams to just 147 yards passing. These are the Rams, though, and when Sam Bradford was in, they were moving the ball.
Next week at Pittsburgh should be a better test.
Like the cornerbacks, the Colts safeties didn't stand out too much to me. Antione Bethea didn't play too much. The same goes for Tom Zbikowski. Both looked good when they were out there.
Joe Lefeged looked OK. He would probably still be the third safety on the roster.
As for the fourth, and probably final, safety spot on the roster, that comes down to David Caldwell, Jermale Hines, Mike Newton and Matt Merletti.
I think Hines and Newton have the lead right now, but we need to see more. Just as it is with the corners, we'll learn more Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri looked to be in midseason form. McAfee had a couple of good punts and drilled a 31-yard field goal. Vinatieri didn't break a sweat on four extra points.
There were no breakout runs on punts or kicks, which, in the past, would always be a positive with this team.
The thing I was looking forward to the most was punt and kick returns from rookies T.Y. Hilton and Lavon Brazill. Brazill has been a standout special teams performer in camp. Hilton was a big-time punt and kick returner in college.
Unfortunately, we'll have to wait another week to see more from them. Hilton did cleanly field a punt in the first half that bounced towards the sideline. That was good to see. Other than that, there wasn't much to judge from the return game.
Follow Brian on Twitter @coldy4goldy.