The main event of Hall of Fame weekend took place on Saturday night with the induction of the Class of 2016, and for the Indianapolis Colts it was extra special as Marvin Harrison and Tony Dungy were both enshrined, with plenty of former players in attendance. But tonight, the 2016 NFL season officially gets underway with the Hall of Fame game, the first preseason contest of the year.
The Indianapolis Colts will face off against the Green Bay Packers in Canton, Ohio, for the extra game, and it will be our first chance to actually see the team on the playing field. We’ve been watching them in training camp for the past two weeks, but now it’s time to see them on the field. Here’s what I’ll be watching for in tonight’s game:
We won’t get to see first round center Ryan Kelly, but we should get a better idea of several of the Colts’ linemen. The toughest thing to truly see in training camp is how a team will be in the trenches, so the preseason is a good opportunity. Specifically, we’ll be looking for how Denzelle Good does at guard. We’ll be looking for how the Colts use Jonotthan Harrison and Joe Haeg. We’ll be looking for how the other rookie linemen, Le’Raven Clark and Austin Blythe, play. It’s still uncertain if Hugh Thornton is going to go, but if he does we’ll be looking for how the Colts use him in comparison to Good. There are plenty of things to watch from the offensive line in the first preseason contest.
Frank Gore won’t play much, if at all. But we already know what the Colts are getting when it comes to the veteran back; what we’ll be looking for in the preseason is for someone to step up behind him. Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman, and Josh Ferguson all figure to see a nice workload in the preseason as the Colts try to figure that question out, and it will be good to see the backs run in a live situation, with the guys in the trenches actually playing their hardest. Another thing to watch is how the Colts rotate the backs. Ferguson has received a lot of first team reps recently in camp, but does that mean he’ll get the “first” shot as the number two back in preseason? How many snaps will the backs receive in comparison to each other? The distribution and playing time, as well as the production, will be worth paying attention to as well.
It’s no secret that in training camp last year there were plenty of standout performances by wide receivers, but that when the preseason rolled around they went quiet. This year, there are some receivers who likewise are impressing in camp, such as Chester Rogers and Tevaun Smith. But here’s the big question: how will they perform in a game setting? When they actually might get hit going across the middle or when the pressure is on to produce? The Colts’ fourth and fifth wide receiver spots are completely open right now, so watching which receivers step up in the preseason will be important.
In training camp, players can display their pass rush skillsets but they won’t be able to put it fully on display since they can’t hit the quarterback. That’s why, though we’ve seen impressive camps from Earl Okine, Ron Thompson, and Trevor Bates, it’s really too early to tell what the Colts have in those three (as well as others, like Curt Maggitt). Nobody is expecting them to be All-Pros right away, but the Colts need guys who can provide depth and who can be developmental guys. One of the biggest things to watch tonight and in the rest of the preseason will be these younger pass rushers, for sure.
Here’s the deal: tonight’s game won’t be anything special. It won’t neccessarily be fun to watch, and it’s not one the Colts have spent much time gameplanning for. “This game is not going to be about game planning and trying to out scheme somebody,” Chuck Pagano said on Friday, “it’s about blocking and tackling and running and catching and see who can run down and take on a block, get off a block and make a play in the open field. The special teams aspect is going to be key because a lot of these guy’s livelihood and longevity in whether they make this roster or not depends on whether they’re great core teamers or not.”
So understand that the Colts aren’t neccessarily putting out a gameplan; rather, what they’re hoping for is for players to play sound, fundamental football. It’s amazing how many players in essence cut themselves over stupid mistakes. One of the key aspects of preseason is seeing how the players do fundamentally: are they in the right spot? Do they make the tackle? Do they block their guy? Do they make the catch? Those kinds of things are what really help players make the roster - plus, of course, special teams.
How much will the starters play?
Coming into training camp, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised by the Colts deciding to rest their starters for the Hall of Fame game. But then earlier last week, Chuck Pagano said that everybody would play, and that included Andrew Luck. On Friday, however, he backtracked from that statement and said he’d go with his gut and that he might wake up Sunday morning and decide not to play Luck at all. So it’s currently unclear whether we’ll see the starters at all, but even if we do, it would very likely only be for a series.