On Saturday, the Indianapolis Colts have their first home game of the preseason. Sure, it's just the preseason, but it's still a professional football game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It's been months since the Colts were last there, when they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in a historic comeback. Now it's the 2014 team's turn to claim that field and make it theirs.
But keep in mind: Preseason is much more about individual player performances than it is about how teams look as a whole. With that in mind, here are three players who I'll be watching for closely on Saturday.
There have been some mixed reviews on Trent Richardson. Some of the local media, like The Indianapolis Star's Stephen Holder, have praised Richardson for his job in camp and the first preseason game. According to Holder, Richardson is "off to a great start" and is running with a "sort of determination and decisiveness."
Mike Wells of ESPN.com said he was impressed with Richardson in his first preseason game because he gained almost nine yards on his first carry.
But once you get outside of the local bubble, the reviews on Richardson are mixed at best.
Personally, I haven't seen anything in camp or a preseason game that looks noticeably different from last season. For one, any camp runs (that I observed) didn't include any tackling, and the two lines were never going at full intensity. That alone makes it nearly impossible to glean valuable information, but Richardson never participated in a Colts camp last season, so there is no frame of reference to compare it to.
In the Colts loss to the Jets, Richardson did have a 9-yard gain on one run, but it was a well-blocked play and Richardson's vision was still poor on the play, running into an offensive lineman and coming to a near stop before realizing the gaping hole to his left. On another occurrence, Richardson ran into an offensive lineman, had an observable crease to his left and never cut to it, leading to a loss of yards on the play.
Just like last season, the offensive line did give Richardson a few very difficult situations, but overall Richardson simply wasn't effective (five carries, 13 yards). Like last season, Richardson averaged less than three yards per carry, and like last season, it was a mix of both the offensive line's (actually, it was usually a tight end's fault, but I digress) and Richardson's fault.
I'm still on the record as saying that Richardson will be more productive this season, and there's reason to believe he'll improve. But those reasons don't include training camp and one series in a preseason game. So, in the Colts' second game, I'll be looking for Richardson to get an extended look and, hopefully, some optimistic signs.
S Delano Howell
Ever since the Colts went through free agency without signing another starting safety to pair with LaRon Landry, Delano Howell has been the main favorite to win the starting job. Howell filled in for Landry while the latter was injured last season and did an admirable job.
Howell is a smart player who sees the field and anticipates well. But he had a nasty habit of missing tackles last season, and that habit has seemingly translated into the preseason, where he missed two tackles and finished with a -0.7 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
But the more glaring issue was Howell's complete lack of impact. When Howell started against the 49ers last season, he made a noticeable impact, breaking up passes, being active in the run game, etc. Howell did have one nice tackle in the run game, limiting Chris Ivory to a four-yard gain, and another assist on a third down that forced a punt. But that was about the extent of his on-ball activity.
Last Thursday, after the game was over, I assumed Howell simply had left the game with the first team and hadn't played much. But according to PFF, Howell played 28 snaps in the game. Only Dewey McDonald and David Sims, neither of whom is in position to grab the starting spot, played more snaps.
Generally playing more snaps in the first week of a preseason game means the coaches want to see more of you. Unfortunately, Howell didn't seem to take advantage of that opportunity and will need to bounce back against the Giants.
WR Donte Moncrief
The Colts third-round pick has made his presence felt in camp, consistently being lauded by media for his play. It's not that Moncrief looked miles better than every other receiver in camp. It was simply the air of confidence and comfort about him.
Moncrief looked much smoother and more natural at camp than one may have expected from a rookie wide receiver with very raw skills. He made some impressive plays, had decent timing with Andrew Luck and generally looked to be off to a very good start in his NFL career. He should be the fourth wide receiver when the regular season starts.
But unfortunately, his play didn't translate to production in his first preseason game.
Moncrief had just one catch, in which he displayed acute awareness and found a soft spot in the zone defense for 16 yards. But outside of that, Moncrief struggled to create consistent separation and was targeted just one other time:
Even there, Moncrief really doesn't have the cornerback beat, which is why the ball was nearly intercepted. There may have been a small window for a completed pass there, but it would have had to be a near-superhuman throw from Hasselbeck.
Despite the lackluster performance, I have high hopes for Moncrief, both in this season and beyond. But at some point, Moncrief's play in practice has to translate to game production. Against the Giants, Moncrief should get another extended look (he had the fourth-most offensive snaps, with 39 last week), and how much separation he can create on a consistent basis will be fascinating to observe.
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.
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