Week three of the preseason is upon us, and it is starting to feel like we might never reach real football. The novelty has, at least for me, just about worn off with regard to watching preseason action.
At this stage, we know with certainty that Frank Reich isn’t going to call an interesting game. He is looking for individuals winning their matchups, not scheming guys open. He isn’t running the no huddle, which we expect to be a staple of the regular season offense.
The Colts haven’t targeted Eric Ebron significantly, or run their exotic looks with regard to the tight end position. In short, they’ll keep the element of surprise for the regular season.
Still, there are interesting things to watch for in the upcoming game against the San Francisco 49ers. Let’s take a look at them.
Players Returning From Injury
With the exception of losing Deon Cain, the Colts haven’t suffered the same kinds of debilitating injuries that some franchises have up to this point. They have, however, had some disruptive minor injuries that are making it tough to see what the final picture of this roster looks like.
That will change a bit in week three. Starting safety Malik Hooker is expected to make his return against the 49ers, and it will be our first chance to see him playing alongside Clayton Geathers. Geathers made his presence known right away against the Ravens, and it will be exciting to see Hooker do the same. If he can return to form and pick up where he left off last season, this could be an exciting pairing.
Right tackle Denzelle Good is also expected to be back in action in time for this game. Good is the likely starter and getting him back and healthy helps bring some stability to an offensive line that has been chaotic so far in the offseason. While Anthony Castonzo is unlikely to be back before week one, having at least one starting tackle worked into the game will give us a much better picture of what we’ve got.
Lastly, rookie defensive end Kemoko Turay makes his game debut this week. As one of the Colts’ second round picks, Turay was drafted to get to the quarterback. This will be our first opportunity to see him in action. Until he was injured, he was largely running with the first team. If he can get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it’ll take a lot of pressure off the young cornerbacks.
The Running Backs
Week three of the preseason is considered something of a trial run for the regular season. Frank Reich won’t run with just one running back. He’ll likely game plan specifically for each opponent and use the back that he thinks will give the team an advantage that week.
Even so, there will likely be a player who gets the majority of the first team snaps in this game, and it is a bit of a mystery as to who that might be. Last week Christine Michael gobbled up those snaps and was pretty uninspiring. With Marlon Mack hoping to be healthy enough to go week one, and Robert Turbin suspended the first four games, the Colts need someone to stand out.
So far that has been Jordan Wilkins. Both of his games have been productive, but marked with some mistakes. However, he has been the most consistently good back for the Colts in the preseason. It would make sense for him to get some starting reps this week.
The Pass Rush
If the Colts are going to take a step forward as a team, they need their defense to get pressure on quarterbacks and they need to get difference making sacks. Without impact plays from the defense, this style and scheme can really struggle. That development on the defensive line of the pass rushers is critically important for this reason.
We have seen John Simon and Hassan Ridgeway get pressure on quarterbacks. Ryan Delaire and Jabaal Sheard have had solid performances as well. What we need to see this week is basically the same or better from all, and hopefully an impact from Denico Autry, who has looked good for the most part this offseason, Kemoko Turay who has not yet seen game action, and Margus Hunt.
This defense doesn’t have anyone on it who is a lock for double digit sacks. So that means they need a bunch of guys who can get 5+ sacks on the season. Through two preseason games, this team has 7 sacks. Now it is just the preseason and that doesn’t mean much, but if they kept up that same pace throughout the season, it would put them on pace for 56 sacks, which would have tied for first in the NFL last season. That is the kind of production they need to get if they want to have a chance to contend for the AFC South title.
With so many things unsettled across the roster, it can be tough to zone in on any one thing to look for during the preseason. There have been so many rotations in and out of players that it is understandable if you’ve missed some things. There is one thing you definitely shouldn’t have missed though.
Darius Leonard has been making plays all over the field and showcasing his athleticism. He has been in on 11 tackles in his two games, and shown the kind of promise that he could be a long term impact player on the roster. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Leonard hasn’t been perfect, and there will be times when it is obvious that he is a rookie as the season goes on, but he looks like a good player who could develop and be a star on this team going forward. It has been awhile since we had one of those in the middle of the defense.
The Colts cornerbacks have gotten a lot of grief so far as a pretty terrible group. There have certainly been struggles, and this is a team that needs to grow up fast. Things also aren’t quite as bad as they’ve been made out to be. The Colts’ defense ranks first in the league in pass defense in terms of yards per game. While it is preseason and that matters very little, a dreadful defensive back group is unlikely to be able to do that even in the preseason.
What will be interesting to see is how this group plays with both starting safeties on the field. In the scheme the Colts will run, the safeties are a critical part, and they take a lot of pressure of the corners.
This game should give a clearer picture of who the Colts plan to start where. As with just about everywhere on the defense, they have used different lineups throughout the offseason. With the regular season drawing closer, I expect that we will get a better picture of what the “first team” lineup at cornerback will be.