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The end of training camp means a new beginning for the Colts, expectations for this week

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Indianapolis Colts v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T. Ludwig/Getty Images

Once training camps end, things start to return to normal for NFL franchises. Access to the media dips considerably at team headquarters and the first week of opponent preparations gets underway.

Up to this point in the preseason, Indianapolis spent little or no time on actually scouting their coming opponent. Even after working against one another in team practices last week, the Browns and Colts did very little (likely nothing) to actually diagnose film on one another and put together a plan to increase the odds of a win. Don’t let the pageantry of the shared practices fool you, this was another controlled scrimmage, where individual players were viewed in isolation and the goal was to see who was lining up in the appropriate spot, who was recognizing their assignments, and who put themselves in positions to make important plays.

This week, players will get re-acclimated to something that resembles a typical NFL work week. They will get their practice time on the field but also spend time in positional meetings and the film room attempting to prepare for the Chicago Bears on Saturday. The third week of preseason is often consider the dress rehearsal for each NFL franchise and will place first team players on the field for their heaviest load prior to the regular season.


INJURY UPDATE

One thing that won’t change this week is that Andrew Luck is not expected to practice. Last week it was reported that the Colts have a deadline to determine Luck’s availability that will occur following the third Preseason game. The video of Luck doing work pre-game on Saturday is encouraging and may indicate reason to feel some confidence that he will return in time for the season opener but fans will have to continue to hold their collective breath to get a definitive answer.

Coach Frank Reich provided the following comments:

Just an update on Andrew (Luck), he will not practice this week. Really, no further updates. Really all we’ve got right now is that it’s a combination of full-speed movement and pain threshold. So that’s all we’ve got right now so no further updates on that.

After watching the video on Saturday, my confidence level has jumped up a bit. He didn’t look like a player who was experiencing considerable pain, who was experiencing limited range of motion, or who the team was super concerned about keeping off of his feet to recover.

Other injured players with updates include running back Jordan Wilkins, wide receiver Parris Campbell and defensive end Jabaal Sheard. Reich offered the following:

Regarding Wilkins nearing a return, “He is week-to-week. There is still a chance for Week 1, but it’s too early to tell that. It’s too early to tell that, but he is making good progress.”

Regarding Sheard, “Probably not as ready to talk about his situation yet. He’s making good progress. Probably not ready to make a statement as far as how close (he’s) to Week 1.”

Regarding Campbell nearing a return, “Yeah, as far as when you’re looking at if you are checking off steps, he checked off another step yesterday I think it was.” Regarding his possible return this week, “Probably not ready to make that declaration yet. Probably not, but I don’t know if we are ready to rule him out for this week.”

Reading between the lines here, it is a safe bet that Sheard will not be ready to go against the Chargers. At this point, Reich’s comment indicate that seriously considering a Week 1 return isn’t in the cards right now. The offensive players have a higher likelihood to potentially return to the field before the regular season but a week-to-week designation isn’t particularly promising for Wilkins (though Reich appeared less committed to that sentiment). The fact that ruling out a return for Campbell at all this week isn’t something Reich wants to do gives the impression that he is getting close.

One positive sign from Tuesday’s practice is that wide receiver Penny Hart was able to return to the practice field. He is a long-shot to make the roster at this point but getting a chance to get back on the field and make an impression could earn a spot on the practice squad. Remember, of all the prospects on the team who could push for return duties, Hart is likely the best.


TIGHT END BATTLE

For fans who have been trying to project how the tight end position battle will play out, Reich provided some insight. It has been a common observation that the two players fighting for what could be a fourth roster spot at tight end are very different. Reich acknowledged that in his statements:

Regarding how Ross Travis and Hale Hentges are different players, “You’re exactly right. Really, we look at it as two different positions, not completely, but pretty much. Obviously with Ross (Travis) being in the mold of (Eric) Ebron and Hale being in the mold of Jack (Doyle) and the roles that they play, which we use differently in our offense. So that’s a mix that Chris (Ballard) and I talk about a lot when it comes down to roster spots and how that all plays out. They both look good.”

For those who have used these observations to draw a conclusion about which direction the team will likely go, Reich didn’t indicate that there is a rush to make a final decision.

One thing to note that could very well be the deciding factor on cut day: Nick Sirianni likes to have players with a lot of flexibility on the roster. He likes having an H-Back option who can lineup in the backfield as a fullback on occasion. The only player on the Colts roster at this time who has a legitimate opportunity to fill that Ryan Hewitt role from a year ago is Hentges.

Could this be the attribute that turns the final decision?


THE IMPORTANCE OF GAME PLANNING IN PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS

I know it gets discussed a lot during the preseason but its an important concept to repeat. While Coach Rick Venturi notes that it is fair to expect your first team players to perform well in one-on-one situations against opponent starters, even in the first two preseason games, it is also fair to note that there are certain roles that are particularly challenging without game planning and film work ahead of time.

When asked about the offensive line’s performance to this point and about how to project the likelihood for success in the running game, Reich indicated that much of that is difficult to gauge simply from those first on field performances. Looking at things in context and as a whole, Reich doesn’t appear particularly concerns about either facet of the offense.

Regarding the offensive line, “Yeah, I think it’s coming together as far as physically coming together. I think what we are doing now that we get more game-plan specific – that’s a pretty big deal. Our defensive line does present unique challenges as you guys know. Our defensive scheme is a unique scheme. There are more line movements and stunts than most teams play. So when we are game planning, it’s just a different deal when we go up against different teams. Then as you said, Cleveland probably got the best of us in that practice. I thought our protection in the game was in the acceptable range when you look at the big picture.”

Regarding whether the light flips on for the running game in the regular season, “Yeah, there is no guarantee anything flips on, right? I mean we have to prove that. But why I feel confident and why I’m not overly stressed that we haven’t run the ball well in two preseason games – particularly well in two preseason games – is there are a lot of parts that are moving. I see the drill work. I see all the independent moving parts. I see our personnel. I see the drill work. I see our schemes. I know what we are doing and what we are not doing from a game-plan standpoint. Those give me reason to be confident and optimistic.”

One facet of football that is important to recognize is that whoever is dictating the pace or the terms for engagement is likely to have the upper hand. This is why offenses talk about establishing one facet of their game plan in order to setup the success for other facets. It’s why Peyton Manning and Tom Moore used so much no-huddle and an up-tempo game plan. It kept the offense on the offensive and the defense on its heels. It got defensive players physically tired and opposing coaches mentally exhausted because they couldn’t make substitutions or adjustments.

Similarly, the defenses who have been recognized as perhaps the most dominant in NFL history have all dictated the flow of the game. Effective pass rushing broke up the offensive game plan for their opponents. Stifling secondary coverage took away much of that part of the game. Crushing run defense forced opponents to become one-dimensional. Opportunism created turnovers (Darius Leonard) and ultimately won football games.

In preseason and training camp, without any game planning, much of the offense is muted. Offensive linemen practice their fundamentals and carry out assigned blocks on specific plays. They don’t spend a ton of time on breaking down opponents techniques or adjusting their sets for something specific. With a defense like the Colts have, a fast paced defense that uses a ton of movement, stunts and slants to attack the offensive line, it means the defense is likely dictating much of the terms of engagement.

Depending on the health of the offensive line this week, we may see the first legitimate glimpse of how the offensive line works with something resembling a game plan on how to approach and attack their opponent. If the unit continues to look lost or fails to impose its will, concerns about the group will get louder.