Preseason in the NFL truly begins tonight. There's a slate of interesting games where we aren't so much looking at how the team look, but rather how certain players are in terms of health, sustained ability, and (in some cases) comfort level with their new club.
How will Peyton Manning look in the one or two series he'll play for the Broncos?
Is Adrian Peterson healthy?
Will Brandon Weeden impress?
Will Robert Griffin III wow us with a big play, wetting everyone's appetite for the 2012 regular season?
I cannot recall a preseason with this much anticipation. The giddiness I have for those four or so points above is significantly dwarfed by all the excitement I feel towards the 'new era' Colts. Personally, I temper this excitement by trying to keep things realistic. Based on what they have to work with this year, it seems like Chuck Pagano, Ryan Grigson, and their staffs have done a good job. They haven't had much to work with in terms of overall talent, but they are doing the best with what they have.
However, despite that, I'm genuinely excited. I like unknowns. I like change. I like newness.
Every preseason, I pick four or five players and focus on their development; from training camp on through game four to the final 53-man roster cutdowns. In the past, we saw good players get cut and bad players retained because of the egos controlling the front office. It drove me nuts. This year, the front office is more concerned with winning, player development, and finding the absolute best 53 players possible for the 2012 season. Thus, it makes my job of singling out four or so players easier, which I appreciate.
It's nice to write about guys who can truly help the team win instead of writing articles that basically boiled down to, "This guy sucks, but the front office will keep him because they are led by self-centered buttholes." Yeah, those articles sucked to write.
Players I'm Watching
Mewelde Moore, RB
I'm not watching him because I think he needs to develop. Moore is 30, has won a Super Bowl with the Steelers, and is beloved by Bruce Arians. His 4.5 career-yards-per-carry average is impressive. He's a great pass blocker, and he has good hands out of the backfield. He's Joseph Addai, sans the injury history. Moore has played in 59 of a possible 64 games since 2008. That is impressive durability and toughness for a runningback in this era. He's also a decent punt and kick returner.
Personally, I think he will overtake Donald Brown as the starter at RB sometime this season. If he doesn't, then I see Moore earning more carries, and he will be on the field during third down situations. If he impresses in preseason, and Brown struggles, it will be hard for the coaches to justify playing Brown over Moore. If nothing else, guys like Vick Ballard and Delone Carter will push Brown out if this happens, but Moore likely could remain the critical back in the critical situations.
LaVon Brazill, WR
Coming into camp, everyone was hooting about T.Y. Hilton. He's fast. He's dynamic. He's explosive. Nothing against Hilton (he's had a fine camp so far), but he has been diminished by LaVon Brazill, who has wowed everyone with his speed, hands, and explosiveness as a receiver and returner. Brazill was smart this offseason, doing whatever he could to get time in with Andrew Luck before camp started. That work is paying off.
My hope is he can stay healthy. 5'11, 191 lbs wideouts tend be be brittle, and he isn't at Ohio University anymore. This is the man's league, and safeties will crush you if speed is your game. I'm looking to see if he is smart the way Marvin Harrison was during his career. Avoid the big hit. Go down. Get out of bounds. Stay. Healthy.
Jerry Hughes, OLB
Seemingly every year, I have this bust of a player listed here. Last year, he should have been cut, and I was told by a good source (apologies, cannot tell) that Bill Polian told John Chick that the reason the Colts needed to cut him was because Hughes was a first rounder. Polian admitted to Chick that he'd outplayed Hughes, and that if all things were equal, Hughes would have been cut and Chick retained. Chick got picked up by the Jaguars last season after the 53-man cutdown, and he earned 2.5 sacks, a FF, and 2 passes defended. Not bad for a former CFL player. Jaguar fans were certainly happy to have him last year.
Meanwhile, Jerry Hughes continued to suck in Indianapolis.
This year, he's being utilized in a role more suited to his talents. He's looked good in camp, but that should be taken with a grain of salt. Hughes has always struggled when the lights go on. He needs to make plays this preseason. Force a fumble. Earn a few sacks. Create turnovers. Make. An. Impact.
It's likely he will be matched up in preseason against second tier players and scrubs. He must dominate these guys. If he struggles, this regime will not coddle him the way the previous one did. He will be cut if he doesn't produce. Mark my words on that.
Cassius Vaughn, CB
Something about Vaughn has my interest, and I don't know why. He's the presumed starter opposite Jerraud Powers now. Last year in Denver, he showed flashes of big play ability, but nothing consistent. Can he take that next step?
At 5'11, 195 lbs, he's got decent size to play corner. He's quick, and he can cover man-to-man. He also has some pretty decent return ability, which is a plus.
I'm still convinced the Colts will swing a trade for another corner before preseason ends, or (more likely) pick up a corner cut loose by another team when the first or second roster chop downs occur. Still, if Vaughn proves he can play, that just adds another quality corner into the mix. The Colts need all they can get.
If there is a player you are watching or interested in, toss his name and a write-up in the comments below.