It has been nearly 600 days since Andrew Luck has thrown a legitimate pass in the National Football League, and it’s felt as if it’s been 600 days since the 2017 season ended.
The wait is over, and the Indianapolis Colts are back in action.
With the regular season a month away, the Colts are looking to solidify several spots on the roster — which means fans are going to be observing all areas of the field. With that in mind, here are three players — not named Andrew Luck — to have an eye on as the game progresses.
Frank Reich, and Andrew Luck for that matter, are going to need a second playmaker in the wide receiving core to take the pressure of T.Y. Hilton on every single possession.
While Reich and Colts don’t need Grant to make a play on every single route, they need a consistent threat out wide or in the slot. The ball isn’t going to go Grant on every down, but with his characteristic of running and cutting hard on every breaking route he’s going to keep defensive backs on their heels.
It’s important for an offense to have wide receivers coming off the line at full speed on every single dropback — or even hand-off. That’s what Grant does and that’s what the Colts were missing last year in a down year.
“Even if the ball’s not going to Ryan ... we see it in his play,” Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said via the Indianapolis Star. “Look at how he’s running that route. Look at how he’s releasing off the ball there. Did you see that big run? Ryan Grant is the one that came in and (sprung) him. And that’s what we’ve seen from Ryan.”
Grant separated himself from Deon Cain and Chester Rogers with his play in training camp.
After four seasons with the Washington Redskins, the veteran left for a four-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens in free agency, which didn’t last all that long after the Ravens failed his physical with an injured ankle. Grant denied any injury concerns and who could blame him. He passed physicals with the Colts and Raiders.
With that in mind, Grant is hungry to prove himself and Colt fans should be excited to see that.
Khalil Mack is stealing headlines with his potential availability via trade, but right now he’s still in Oakland and the Colts still need a pass-rushing playmaker to make an impact.
That means Indy needs Tarrell Basham to take that next step in year number two.
Basham entered the NFL out of Ohio University a little bit raw, needing to learn pass-rushing techniques and add more to his repertoire. The second-year veteran acknowledged that he entered his rookie year a bit heavier than what he needed to be, losing 20 pounds from 270 to 250.
“Trimming down and stuff worked for me, just you know finding out what works from there. I definitely feel like I have been coming into my own with that and figuring it out,” Basham said to reporters on August 3. “Also figuring out that right defensive end spot, because naturally I am a left defensive end guy. So I am just figuring out you know, getting comfortable over there, getting confident over there. The past couple of days have been feeling a whole lot better.”
It isn’t a surprise Basham struggled as a rookie in Pagano’s confusing defensive strategies. The change from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 should help Basham take that next step as an edge-rusher. With his hand in the dirt, he has one task in mind: Getting to the quarterback.
The Colts recorded the second-fewest sacks in the NFL one year ago, so the play of Basham will be crucial in whether Indy can fight for an AFC South title.
Quincy Wilson admitted back in May that he wasn’t ready for the NFL last season, resulting in Chuck Pagano to play other cornerbacks ahead of the former Florida defensive back.
With Vontae Davis and Rashan Melvin gone, Frank Reich needs Wilson to be ready.
Ballard attributed Wilson’s early struggles to him being hurt.
“He was hurt,” Ballard said of Wilson after the NFL Draft. “I think there’s always more to the story, is all I’m going to say. Hey, did he have a great rookie year? No, he didn’t. I thought he played well at the end. I thought he had a good play at the end that was really good.”
Wilson is ready to take that next step as a defensive back the Colts can rely on. That defensive unit can use it. With question marks in every spot outside of the two safety positions, the play of Wilson will ultimately decide whether the Colts have a mediocre defense or respectable.
“Last season taught me a whole lot,” Wilson said back in May. “I could sit here and talk for days about what it taught me ... I thought we were gonna take a corner (in the draft), but we didn’t, so that means they’re putting full faith in me, Nate (Hairston), Kenny (Moore) and Pierre (Desir). We just gotta step up and make it happen.”
With an immense amount of talent, the former Gator was expected to take the reins as the lockdown cornerback of the secondary. That hasn’t been the case just yet, as Kenny Moore was listed ahead of Wilson in the Colts’ first depth chart.
Who will line up as the number one corner? That remains to be seen. But the move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense should help the second-year cornerback as well, allowing him to focus on press coverage and reading the cornerback. With a 4-3 scheme, the pressure with the front seven is just as important as the play on the outside. If the Colts can get some action from the front, Wilson should benefit from that.