There is no sugarcoating the fact that yesterday’s game between the Colts and Lions was brutal to watch. The nature of the first and last preseason games in particular, most years, is that a lot of young players will dominate the playing time and very little will be seen from the projected starters. This is a double-edged sword for fans because much of the itch for football goes unfulfilled but there is a legitimate opportunity for the first time to see some of the new players on the roster.
There were positive and negative takeaways for guys who are hoping to make a push for a spot on the roster and we will take a look at players who did themselves a favor and those who may have made it easier for coaches to move on.
First round safety Malik Hooker had the opportunity to get on the field for his first NFL game reps. He used the opportunity to lead the team in tackles and was willing to come up in the box to make plays against the run. One of the biggest knocks on him coming out of college was that he would be a liability as a tackler and his first game proved otherwise.
While fans will be quick to point out that second round corner Quincy Wilson got beat on a couple of plays, there were some really encouraging takeaways from his game. The first is that he was all over his assignment and forced the receiver to make difficult catches. It just so happens that Kenny Golladay is the Lions training camp darling this year and was up to to the task of making some pretty spectacular plays but it wasn’t a instance of Wilson simply being outmatched.
From here, Wilson needs to get more live reps and needs to work on getting his head around to make plays on the ball. He was in excellent position to bat passes down but never saw the ball coming.
T.Y. McGill is still a highly effective sub-package defensive lineman. The Colts should absolutely continue bringing him onto the field in clear passing situations because no defensive lineman on the roster more efficiently wreaks havoc in the backfield from the defensive line than he does.
Veteran inside linebacker Sean Spence was also effective while he was on the field. He put pressure on the quarterback, showed sideline to sideline speed, and made an important play on a screen that was poorly defended by rookie Anthony Walker. This wasn’t an eye-opening performance that will single-handily change his status on the depth chart but it is something to build on.
Tackling issues have not gone away despite a more physical training camp. In particular, the secondary showed the inability to make stops after Lions receivers hauled in the football. Some of the depth linebackers were guilty of over-pursuing and using poor tackling form as well, including rookie Anthony Walker. This is something the Colts can ill-afford to carry over into the regular season if they hope to turn things around defensively.
The offensive line really needs to get healthy because missing three starters and key depth players makes for a very long day. The unit was ineffective opening lanes for running backs, gave up five sacks on the day, and generally looked outmatched all afternoon. It’s fair to recognize that the very bottom of the roster players took a whole lot of snaps but it doesn’t change that there was very little good to take away from the offensive line on Sunday.
Similarly, the secondary has shown that it cannot afford to be missing key rotational players. While Vontae Davis had some time on the field and helped disrupt a pass that was picked off by John Simon, key rotational players like Rashaan Melvin and Darryl Morris did not take the field. That put a lot of youth and inexperience in tough positions and they clearly have additional work to do.
Of the offensive linemen who struggled, no players was abused throughout the game as much as Andrew Wylie. He is an undrafted rookie out of Eastern Michigan and certainly has time to turn things around but if there is a candidate who is cut worthy after one game, he would be at the top of my list.
I had high hopes for Rigoberto Sanchez to compete with Jeff Locke for an opportunity to punt. His muffed punt on his first attempt did him no favors. He matched Locke’s long for the day of 53 yards and clearly showed a better leg on kickoffs but will need to put the mistake behind him quickly if he plans to take the spot.
It didn’t help that Locke had one of the friendliest bounces on a punt that I’ve ever seen either. Neither punter looks to have anything even close to the leg that Pat McAfee had a year ago. This will matter when we’re trying to punt out of our own end zone and give opponent the ball with a short field.
Corner Tevin Mitchel was abjectly abused all day long. If there was a question coming into the game about whether Mitchel deserved to be starting ahead of Wilson, he clearly answered that question. He was outmatched or out of position, and generally ineffective all day long as Lions quarterbacks picked him apart. He has real work to do if he hopes to put different images in the heads of coaches and fans.