Players To Watch Colts v. Panthers

I know, my post is unoriginal because almost everyone posts their opinions on who are the "guys" to watch before every pre-season game.  Still, my list isn't the same as everyone else's lists so I thought I'd put it out there.

1)  Mike Hart - NFL analysts and Colts fans alike who were unfamiliar with Mike Hart when we drafted him in the sixth round this year labeled him a long-shot to make the team and largely dismissed his chances to produce at "this level" because his "40 time" is "too slow" for the NFL.  Those who had the opportunity to watch Hart play at Michigan (which I really didn't), were astonished that Hart dropped so low in the draft, stoked he landed with the Colts, and shocked that anyone would dismiss his chances to be a productive back in the NFL, let alone make the freaking team.  Those fans who are self-annointed experts even broke down the exact difference in yards travelled between a 4.7 and 4.4 40 yard dash and used the math to draw conclusions about Hart's chances. 

Now, it seems clear that Kenton Keith's days as a Colt are numbered.  His name rarely enters the discussion when the training camp and preseason RB competition is discussed, by fans and coaches alike.  This would seem to leave the "competition" between Clifton Dawson, a "long-shot" himself last year with an Ivy League background, and Mike Hart.  Sure, the speedy Simpson is also in the "mix" so to speak but like Kenton Keith, his name is rarely uttered by coaches or fans when the 3rd or 4th RB spots are discussed. 

Training camp reports have indicated that Clifton Dawson looks really good and has clearly improved from last year.  The same reports indicated that Hart is showing the coaching staff good things, though admittedly Hart didn't seem to be making as strong of an impression, at least on fans, as Dawson is. 

For me, the easy money is on Hart.  From the moment he was drafted, I looked at it like the 3rd RB spot was his to lose based on a few factors.  1)  His production in college suggested that he knows quite a bit about how to gain yards on the ground.  2)  His youth makes him a better option than Keith... why keep Keith who's nearly 30 when he doesn't offer anything Rhodes doesn't and clearly has trouble running passing routes and catching the football.  It makes more sense to keep the player with more upside and with more time to develop straight out of college into the Colts offensive system.  3)  Even if you're just a stat junkie and did not have the opportunity to watch Hart play much or at all while he was at Michigan (and in high school)... his record setting numbers suggested that he should definitely have an upper-hand over Dawson, who barely saw the light of day during the season last year, even with Keith's pass catching problems and even though Addai missed time nursing an injury.  So... it seemed clear to me from the beginning that a spot on the Colts roster, and likely the 3RB spot in particular, was Hart's spot to lose. 

After the HoF game a few things became pretty clear.  1)  His 40 speed didn't hamper his ability to find running lanes, burst through those lanes, shed tacklers and will his way for extra yards every time he was handed the ball - even when his helmet was ripped off.  2)  Hart didn't just prove to be a "legitimate" threat on the ground, he was the offensive MVP for the game.  He ran the ball with authority, displayed impressive field vision by finding and using his blockers to maximize each of his runs (reminiscient of Edge) and looked comfortable catching the ball, displaying good hands and sound technique after he secured the pass to move he ball upfield. 

Add to all of this Dawson's untimely minor injury that will keep him out of the matchup tomorrow and you'll find Hart squarely in the driver's seat.  If he impresses again, is able to produce even half the yards per carry as he did against Washington, breaks tackles and runs with the same kind of authority as he did last week... he'll make it VERY hard for Dawson to have a shot at winning the 3rd RB spot and actually start putting pressure on Rhodes (who ran strong last week) to maintain the energy which has made him a viable option for the Colts for a number of years.  Hart has a chance to lay all doubt to rest and with Dawson out... he'll probably get plenty of opportunities.

2)  Eric Foster - A significant amount of concern has spread amongst Colts fans regarding talent and overall depth at DT.  Losing Pitcock certainly wasn't what any wanted to see as he was showing signs of developing late in the year last year and offered the kind of size and skill that made him viable at either DT spot.  Needless to say, losing Pitcock isn't nearly the blow that losing Booger McFarland was last year, nor the blow we experienced recently with the failed Corey Simon experiment.   However, with Raheem Brock getting significant time at DE during training camp and playing DE during the HoF game, it would seem as though we've lost a two-year starter at DT and the player who would have entered camp as our primary back-up at both DT positions. 

My money is on Brock returning to DT, primarily because of the revelation we've witnessed in addressing our pass-rushing depth in the draft by grabbing Marcus Howard and another potential Polian gem in Curtis Johnson who looked really good in the HoF game as well.  If both Howard and Johnson make the roster, there will be a much smaller need for Brock on the outside while Pitcock's early retirement has created a greater need for seasoned players on the inside.  Additionally, as a side note, if Howard and Johnson make the roster, 2nd year DT Dawson and potentially Brock will be in the unfamiliar position of not needing to pull "double duty."  As a result, both players will be able to bulk up, if the coaching staff deems it necessary, and focus solely on their job as DTs.

Enter Eric Foster.  Foster has not only gotten the attention of Colts fans attending training camp, he has received attention from NFL "expert analysts" as a player who might be able to make a real difference in his first year.  While his performance in the HoF game didn't wow many Colts fans who were expecting great things and keeping an eye on him, he certainly can't be judged by one game alone.  Additionally, he did show signs of giving the interior of the Washington offensive line fits, as they tried to keep him away from the QB.  Foster, more than any other member of the DL based on what I saw, draw consistent double teams to limit his effectiveness.  How he will adjust after his first NFL experience will be closely examined by Colts fans, coaches and probably all those NFL analysts who saw talent in him in training camp.

Foster's development is certainly important.  If Brock moves back inside permanently before the regular season he would at least replace Pitcock, or so fans hope.  If he really lives up to his the attention he's received so far and is this year's "Ed Johnson"... the DT spot will be in GREAT shape.  Most fans never thought they'd see the day that Brock could play a RESERVE role on the DL again.  To this point, Foster hasn't proven he's the real deal.  His play will be looked at very closely tomorrow and may well determine whether the Colts are in a position to look on the market for another contender for the interior of our DL.

3)  Marcus Howard - Howard has impressed all in training camp with his blazing speed off of the edge and an effective spin move (which seems far more effective than one would expect from a rookie).  Howard has an opportunity to drive home to all just how good he is and allow Colts fans to breath a little easier knowing that we have another legitimate pass rushing specialist to spell Mathis/Freeney.  Finishing with 1 1/2 sacks in the HoF game brought a smile to our faces.  Proving he can be that effective consistently is something Colts fans and coaches are certainly going to be taking a close look at.

4)  Tamme/Robinson - Jacob Tamme had few opportunities to show his ability in the HoF game.  The exact reasons for that could be better identified by analyzing tape of the game focusing on Tamme each time he was on the field.  At this point, the best I can figure is that Tamme's impact was partially limited because Throw Boy Lorenzen was under center most of the time he was on the field.  Since Lorenzen was clearly ineffective, and to be honest he left me feeling sorry for any receiver on the field (a significant portion of the game) because they were unable to make the most of their opportunity to make a case for a spot on the roster, I tend to believe that Tamme fell victim to circumstance.  Still, Tamme has impressed fans and coaches during training camp and many hope that he can prove to be the receiving threat many believe he brings to the team and that he shows he is effective enough as a blocker to warrant consideration in two TE sets... giving Manning even more weapons.  Hopefully he'll have more opportunities and show the fans and coaches he really will be a legitimate threat a TE this year.

On the flip side, Gijon Robinson was VERY impressive.  Some have said that he didn't do as well blocking as Utecht was known to do.  This is his chance to show that his size and experience blocking as a former FB provide the Colts with a legitimate blocking TE replacement for Utecht.  On the positive side, Robinson's abilities as a receiving TE gave reason for fans and coaches to be optimistic about the coming season.  If he can be effective as a receiver against the Panthers he'll be at a clear advantage in the competition for the 2nd TE spot.  I look forward to seeing Robinson again.

5)  Shotwell/Senn - Unless Guzman does something to erase his ineffectiveness in the HoF game, Shotwell and Senn are the front runners for the final back-up spot at LB.   Senn was the stat column gem with 11 tackles but fans have pointed out that it seems a lot of those tackles were nothing more than... "somebody had to tackle the guy and Senn just so happened to be that guy."  In other words, a lot of his tackles were running downfield instead of upfield and few of his tackles were "plays" we can point to as a reason to believe that Senn is a "player" and give us confidence that he will be the answer to our temporary LB depth concerns with Hagler/Wheeler out.

Shotwell had a knack for being around the ball.  His stat line doesn't suggest he "lit things up" on the defensive side of the ball but in one half made four tackles.  Double that and he could have ended up with a 8 tackle game which would be respectable.

At this point our eyes will likely be on one of these two guys to really show something and if they want to make a play for a roster spot they better get to it.

6)  Hughes/Jennings - Some have expressed that Jennings is much improved from last year and that he seems to have possibly caught up to Hughes a bit in the fight for the nickelback spot.  Hughes looked impressive early in the year last year while Jennings caught a lot of heat for either being out of position or taking gambles that resulted in significant gains for opposing WRs.

Hopefully one of these guys will make a clear case against the Panthers.

7)  Marvin Harrison - No analysis necessary, if he shows he's still "got it"... it will mean a lot for our passing attack.

8)  Jamey Richard - As the last of the OL drafted by the Colts this year, Richard would seem to have an uphill battle to prove he's more worthy of a roster spot than returning veterans or the two draft picks before him.  Yet, outside of a bad long snap, many noticed that he played with tenacity and were overall impressed most by his play of all the rookie offensive lineman.  If he can make the same impression against the Panthers, it would be a really positive sign for our offensive line.  Possibly making it as deep as it has ever been in the Manning era.

BONUS - Samuel Giguere - He didn't see action in the HoF game and has drawn a lot of attention from coaches who clearly seem to see something in him because they get on him so much to improve the little mistakes that are carrying over from his transition to American football.  He is a physical specimen at receiver that would intimidate just about any DB who had to take him down.  If he can show that in an actual game he can clean up the mental errors founded in his Canadian football past and can catch the football, making the most of his opportunities, he could possibly make a case for a roster spot.  Although, because our WRs are soooo deep this year, he may be better off making a statement on ST... if he is given the opportunity.  Still, maybe it's just me, but I've been really wanting to see this kid play and I hope we'll have that chance tomorrow.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Stampede Blue's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Stampede Blue's writers or editors.