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Examining the Colts' Preseason Playing Time Trends

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Stampede Blue's Andrew Aziz examines the Colts preseason playing time trends over the past three preseasons.

Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

Figuring out how long to play your starters during the preseason is not an easy task. Play them too long and you run the risk of injury, but give them more experience and playing time. Play them too little and they don't get enough experience/playing time, but the risk of injury is low. Let's see what the Colts have done over the past three preseasons (including this one) and look forward to the final preseason game on Thursday.

The snap count numbers in each table are averages compiled over the past three preseasons, and it represents the Colts only. However, each NFL team generally follows these patterns. Outliers (like Frank Gore this year) are not taken into account.

First Game Trends

Over the past three preseasons, the first game has been a game where the key starters get just a couple of drives. Andrew Luck received 11 snaps in 2013, 13 snaps in 2014, and 11 in 2015. Anthony Castonzo has similar numbers, playing 18 snaps in 2013, 13 in 2014, and 11 in 2015. Although there's no proof of correlation, as Castonzo improved and his role along the offensive line improved, his snaps decreased. Vontae Davis played 16 snaps in 2013, 14 in 2014, and did not play at all in the 2015 first game due to injury. With the Colts averaging just under 6 plays per drive last season (5.7 to be exact, but we'll use 6 for this example), that means that Luck and the key starters play about 2 drives in the first preseason game. This "key and older starters" list also includes starters older than 28 years old.

Other starters, those who wouldn't be considered "key" and are not older than 28 years old, get a little more playing time. Players like Coby Fleener, Jack Mewhort, Jonathan Newsome and Khaled Holmes fit the bill here. All are either confirmed starters or will receive plenty of snaps during the season. Fleener played in 18 snaps in 2013, 8 snaps in 2014 and 23 snaps in 2015. Mewhort played in 26 snaps last year and 20 snaps this year. Those type of players are younger and could use an extra drive or two for experience. Those type of players play between 18 and 30 snaps per game, which equates to 3-5 drives.

After that we have the backups, or the second stringers. These are guys like Amarlo Herrara, Phillip Dorsett, Jonotthan Harrison and Colt Anderson. All of these players received somewhere between 25 and 50 snaps during the first game this season. Anderson, who was a member of the team last season, received 24 snaps in the first preseason game last season. Harrison received 46 snaps last season during the first preseason game.

Finally, there are the third stringers. They play in the latter portion of the game and don't end up getting many snaps. This includes guys like Bryan Bennett, Vincent Brown, Carlos Fields and Kelcy Quarles. These were some of the third stringers in the first game and these guys all received somewhere between 20 and 40 snaps during the game. In the past, we have seen more sporadic numbers, with some players reaching as low as a few snaps in one drive.

This is a table to better see the distribution of snaps in the first preseason game.

Group

# of Snaps

# of Drives

Key and/or Older Starters

10-16

2-3

Regular Starters

18-30

3-5

Backups

22-50

4-8

Third Stringers

8-40

1-5

Second Game Trends

In the second game, we see an increase in snaps for the key and older starters group. Guys like Andrew Luck, Andre Johnson, D'Qwell Jackson received 18 snaps each in this year's second preseason game. They have a game under their belt, more training camp and practice time together and they tend to get an extra drive in the second game. Last year's second preseason game numbers indicate very similar snap counts, with the key and older starters even playing up to 4 drives. The backups tend to get 4 to 6 drives. Matt Hasselbeck received only 22 snaps, which is on the low end for backups. Someone like Duron Carter, who is considered a backup at this point, received 27 snaps in 2015. The third stringers don't get too much time in this game and only get the drives in the fourth quarter. Bryan Bennett, the third string quarterback, received 25 snaps. Ryan Lankford only received 15 snaps as well.

Overall, the second game is where we see the most even distribution of snaps and this table should help indicate that:

Group

# of Snaps

# of Drives

Key and/or Older Starters

12-20

2-4

Regular Starters

23-32

4-5

Backups

24-38

4-6

Third Stringers

15-30

3-5

Third Game Trends

The third game is the game where we see the most from the starters. This, by many counts, is the most exciting game of the preseason. Do not be fooled, the most exciting preseason game is still not that exciting! In this game, starters usually receive the majority of the first half. The "Key and/or Older Starters" and "Starters" receive essentially the same amount of time as they are apart of the first team offense or defense. Backups see a similar amount of snaps compared to the 1st and 2nd game. The third stringers receive very little time in the third game, and that's due to the increase in snaps from the starting squad.

This game is viewed as the tune-up game for the regular season.

Group

# of Snaps

# of Drives

Key and/or Older Starters

35-50

6-8

Regular Starters

33-47

5-7

Backups

22-30

4-6

Third Stringers

5-13

1-2

Fourth Game Trends

The fourth game is reserved for backups and third stringers with key and/or older starters sitting out. Occasionally, some lower level starters will play a drive or two. Andrew Luck, Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, T.Y. Hilton, Vontae Davis and other key and/or older starters will not play or even dress up for this game. Last season, only 20 offensive players went in the game as compared to the 36 that went in the game in this year's first preseason matchup. The team in the final week of the preseason is 16.66% smaller than what it was at the beginning of the preseason, but taking away 16.66% of 36 would equal 30 players. That figure is a good indication that the coaching staff wants to see performances from several specific players.

Takeaways

In the future, when you are trying to stay awake during the preseason games, you can remember these key points:

- The "big name" and key starters will only play:

- About 1 to 2 drives in the first game

- About 2-3 drives in the second game

- The majority of the first half in the third game

- Starters do not play at all in the final game

If you are deciding to go to one preseason game, you should go to the third preseason game as you will see more playing time from the key starters (big name guys). If you are more interested in seeing the no-name guys who are fighting for a roster spot, check out the first and fourth games.