Indianapolis Colts: 5 Questions That Still Must Be Answered This Preseason
The Indianapolis Colts had plenty of questions that needed to be answered before the season began.
Training camp gave us some hints, but those questions really couldn't be answered from half-speed practices. Those hints will be clarified further in the preseason. We've already had one game, but three more remain to further provide insight toward the 2014 regular season and beyond.
On Saturday, the Colts will face the New York Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. According to Phillip B. Wilson of Scout.com, Chuck Pagano plans to play the starters through the first quarter. That's before the third preseason game, in which starters generally play a full half. Then there is the final game, which is often filled with reserves.
Those three games will go far in helping shape our perspective of the 2014 season. Here are five questions that will need to be answered in those three games.
Is the Offensive Revolution Complete?
The second-most important figure in the Colts organization, after Andrew Luck, may just be Pep Hamilton.
The man who runs the Colts offense was criticized heavily for 2013, a season in which the Colts finished 20th in Football Outsiders' weighted DVOA and 13th in Drive Success Rate. It was a mixed season at best for the Colts offense, which strugggled mightily after Reggie Wayne was lost for the season with an ACL tear after Week 7.
But things picked up as the season came to a close, and the Colts' shift in philosophy has me optimistic for 2014.
The Colts showed the same shotgun-based offense on the first team's only drive against the New York Jets, hinting that the changes made at the end of 2013 were permanent as Hamilton learned on the fly. But for now, it's only a hint. With more involved first-team work over the next two preseason games, we'll learn more about whether the Colts tend to utilize the passing offense as efficiently as possible.
Is Bjoern Werner Ready to Shoulder the Load?
It's unanimous that Bjoern Werner is the player to watch on the Colts defense, at least for the first four weeks of the regular season. It is during those four weeks that veteran Robert Mathis will be sidelined for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
With Mathis out, the bulk of the Colts' pass-rushing will fall on the rest of the team. Werner, the Colts' 2013 first-round pick, will receive the bulk of the spotlight. Werner struggled as a rookie, finishing the season with a negative-7.3 grade in pass rush from Pro Football Focus.
But in 26 snaps against the Jets, Werner was noticeably active. His burst off the line of scrimmage was the quickest I've ever seen from him, and he used his hands well in his efforts to get to the quarterback.
Werner has had a strong training camp and looks to continue that in the preseason. But two hurries against the Jets in roughly a quarter-and-a-half of football isn't quite enough to override a season's worth of poor film for Werner.
It won't matter until football begins to count in September, but if Werner continues to be disruptive over the next two weeks, fans can feel a bit more comfortable with the defense in matchups against Denver and Philadelphia to start the season.
Should Jack Mewhort Be Handed the Starting Left Guard Position?
Since Donald Thomas was placed on the injured reserve list with a torn quad, his second in two years, rookie guard Jack Mewhort has been handed the starting spot at left guard. He received the majority of camp snaps with the first team and started the game against the Jets last week.
While Mewhort is probably the most naturally talented lineman the Colts have who isn't already a starter, is he ready to start in the NFL? The Colts tried to start a rookie guard at the spot last year in Hugh Thornton, and suffered greatly because of it. Thornton finished the season with a negative-14.3 grade from Pro Football Focus and ranked 69th out of 81 starting guards.
Mewhort displayed similar struggles against the Jets last week, finishing the game with a negative-1.7 grade from Pro Football Focus. If he continues to struggle, the Colts may think about using one of their veteran guards, like Lance Louis or Joe Reitz, to begin the season.
Will a Safety Emerge?
Along with Werner, the most important player on the Colts defense may be whoever fills the spot for now-San Francisco 49er Antoine Bethea.
A new starting safety must be able to both play the run and the pass with some regular success, as the Colts continue to play with interchangeable safeties.
Against the Jets, none of the safeties competing for this spot—including Delano Howell, Sergio Brown, Mike Adams, Colt Anderson and Dewey McDonald—flashed, and there were a good number of missed tackles by the group as well. Considering how LaRon Landry has struggled with missed tackles, it would not be ideal to have another inconsistent guy as the last line of defense.
But for now, we wait. Wait for somebody to separate himself from the pack.
Are Formerly Injured Players Ready to Start?
The balance between health and practice repetitions is one that teams are consistently trying to find. When should players try to come back from injury? Should they wait until they are completely 100 percent? Should they come back as soon as they possibly can get back onto the field?
Every team faces these issues, but the Colts, who have dealt with "soft tissue" injuries all preseason, seem to have magnified those issues.
Vontae Davis and LaRon Landry have been the main targets of criticism and concern, sitting out most of practice with undisclosed injuries and failing to get reps with the secondary. The secondary being such a key unit with communication being so important, it's always desired to get them on the field as soon as possible.
As long as you're not risking their bodies further to injury, that is. Both players figure to be key starters in 2014, with no real replacement available. The Colts need them to get reps in the defense, but they need them to stay healthy as well.
All statistics and snap counts come from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted. All training camp observations were obtained firsthand by the reporter unless otherwise noted.