The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Buffalo Bills 19-18 on Saturday in their preseason opener. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):
Outside linebackers step up
The biggest question mark entering the 2016 season for the Colts was in regards to their pass rush, and the moves they made were to bring in young developmental players. They added Ron Thompson and Curt Maggitt as undrafted free agents, drafted Trevor Bates in the seventh round, and moved Earl Okine from defensive line to outside linebacker. Saturday was the first chance we got to see those guys in action, and they certainly impressed. Maggitt did a good job setting the edge on the strongside, Thompson generated quite a bit of pressure, Okine had a number of very good rushes that got close to a sack before finally notching one, and Bates had a couple of nice rushes as well. This doesn’t solve the Colts’ pass rush woes or concerns, but it does give a little bit more reason for optimism when it comes to the players the team could be looking to develop.
Colts depth has improved
The preseason is really a time where depth is revealed. The starters only played a couple of series, and some - including Andrew Luck, Frank Gore, and Robert Mathis - didn’t play at all. So preseason games are mostly a competition between each team’s depth, and in recent years the preseason hasn’t been too kind to the Colts. That hasn’t been a problem because the team’s starters were fine, but it’s always a welcome change to see a team that has some legitimate depth. It was just the second time since 2004 that the Colts won their preseason opener, and it was thanks to several key depth players. Scott Tolzien led two good drives at the end of the first half, Stephen Morris played well in the second half, Chester Rogers made a great touchdown play, Jordan Todman took a screen pass for a score, some of the outside linebackers stepped up, T.Y. McGill made some plays - the list just keeps going. Obviously there’s a big difference between producing against starting defenders and producing against second and third team players, but the Colts need players to fill out their 53-man roster and to be able to step up in case of injury. It was only one preseason game, but it was the first chance we got this year to see the team on the field. The first impression? The depth might be better than we initially thought.
One of the biggest and most meaningful takeaways from the preseason game was the lineup details, as it gives us an idea of where guys might be playing and what the team thinks of them. Probably the most notable one was running back Josh Ferguson, who got the start with Frank Gore sitting out. Ferguson saw a ton of first team reps in training camp, always worked with Andrew Luck during individual drills, got the start on Saturday night, and saw plenty of reps with the first-team offense - and didn’t see many without the first-team. I think it’s really hard to argue anything but that Ferguson is the team’s number two back right now. He absolutely needs to do better in order to keep that role - eight carries for three yards won’t cut it - but the Colts’ actions speak very loud. In terms of other positions, we got a better idea of the offensive line as well. Denzelle Good got the start at right guard (as expected), and he got quite a bit of playing time with center Ryan Kelly. Furthermore, Joe Haeg played multiple spots along the offensive line, as did Jonotthan Harrison and Austin Blythe (both Harrison and Blythe played center and guard in Saturday’s game). That versatility should help all three guys out, and then Le’Raven Clark was with the second unit that came in as he played at right tackle (Haeg was at left tackle). On defense, Sio Moore got the start at inside linebacker, but Nate Irving also was in the mix. T.Y. McGill played a lot of snaps along the defensive line and impressed while doing so. As you watch a preseason game, simply noting who is playing where and when they come in can go a long way towards indicating what the team thinks of that player.