We are two days away from seeing the Colts line up across from actual opponents on a football field and play an actual competitive game. The outcome of the game doesn’t matter, and we won’t see much from starters, but after six months without football, we are pretty starved for anything resembling regular season action.
While the final score won’t matter, there is a whole lot to see from these games, and they’ll matter a great deal in terms of separating guys from one another in some of the tight position battles. For that reason, it is worth a reminder that the preseason is primarily about evaluating individual performances, not how the team does as a whole. With that in mind, here are some of the players to keep an eye on Thursday night.
On a recent Colts Cast we discussed how the linebacker play is important to see in the preseason. Linebackers are hard to gauge in camp, and once live game action starts, we’ll get to see how they stack up far better. Okereke is listed as the backup to Anthony Walker at the MIKE position, and has been credited with being an incredibly intelligent player in addition to his clear athletic abilities. We’ll get our first chance to see what he can do as he battles to get meaningful snaps once the regular season arrives.
Staying in the same position group, the next player I’m most excited it watch is E.J. Speed. Seeing rookies get on the field is always one of the best parts of the preseason, because there are so many unknowns, and it is tough to predict who will stick and who will struggle. Speed was a completely unknown prospect for many during the draft, with his selection stumping Daniel Jeremiah.
Since that time, he has proven to be a highly athletic player and seems to be developing well. Darius Leonard said he saw himself in Speed, and anything approaching Leonard’s level of play would be a huge win from a completely unknown prospect. I don’t expect Speed to be the next Darius Leonard, but I’ll be very excited to get to see his contributions on the field and how he stacks up in game action.
There might not be a player Colts fans at large are more excited to see in a game than Deon Cain. Cain’s rookie season was lost to an ACL tear in week one of the preseason last year. After posting highlight reel catch after highlight reel catch all of training camp, we never got to see if he could translate that ability to game day.
Now he is back, and while he is just a year removed from that injury and unlikely back to peak health, he has looked good in camp. Cain faces a very tough wide receiver competition, and needs a solid preseason to guarantee himself a roster spot. It is still unknown how many receivers the Colts will keep, and with their first three positions all but locked in, Cain has he work cut out for him. The Colts like him, but given the stiff competition, he needs to have a good showing throughout the preseason.
The rookie cornerback has been a takeaway machine so far in camp, and it will be very interesting to see him go to work across from a different group of receivers. While the starters are relatively settled at the cornerback position, Ya-Sin has been making a strong case for himself, and if he continues that, Matt Eberflus may be forced to find ways to get him on the field. Cornerback is one of the toughest positions in the NFL to start as a rookie, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ya-Sin struggle at times. However, his knack for being a playmaker should pop off the screen at least some, and give an indication of what he might be with time and development.
When the Colts selected Reece Fountain they knew he would be a work in progress. His athletic traits were strong, and he had a lot of upside potential, despite being a smaller school kid. Unfortunately, Fountain struggled mightily in 2018, and couldn’t get on the field despite working in a receiver room that desperately needed someone to step up.
It seems that he has worked hard through the offseason to improve, and has had a far more impressive camp this year than he did last year. Where the rubber meets the road for Fountain will be in game time. When Fountain did manage to find his way to the field he was plagued with critical drops or simply was a non-factor. Short of an outstanding preseason showing, it seems unlikely that Fountain is on the week one roster, so this first game will be important for him, as will all that follow.
Ben Banogu and Kemoko Turay
Both these players have had minor injury problems early in camp, with Banogu dealing with a hamstring issue and Turay having missed some time with a shoulder injury. Because of this, it isn’t certain that either will get much time on the field. However, these two players are a big part of the future for this team at defensive end, and getting to see how they look against the Bills will be exciting.
The day I was able to be at camp saw both guys have standout efforts, with Turay recording what would likely have been two sacks during full team work, and Banogu getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. A big part of the struggles for the defense in recent memory have been due to inadequate pass rush. These two need to be a part of solving that issue, and Thursday is our first chance to see where they are in terms of that.
Jalen Collins has gotten a lot of buzz throughout camp so far, some of it good and some not so much. While he has gotten his fair share of reps with the starters and has looked good at times, he also seems to have an inordinate number of big plays being made at his expense. In a tight competition for a roster spot in a very deep cornerback room, Collins will have his back against the wall as preseason begins. He is one to watch closely.
Running backs are tough to judge based on camp performances. Once we get them in real tackling situations it provides a much clearer picture of what we’ve got. For that reason I’m excited to see Hines in action. He talked about working with the NC State track team over the summer and getting faster because of it. For a player who was already very versatile and fast, that is exciting. Now we’ll see how that speed and a year of experience translates to the field. Hines could be primed for a big step forward in production as a second year player, and I’m excited to see how he looks Thursday.
Campbell may be the player I’m most excited to watch, but I listed him last for several reasons. First, he has missed time with a hamstring issue, which seems like something that could limit his playing time, if he sees the field at all. Campbell has been the camp darling so far this year, and it’ll be exciting to see whether his camp performance translates, but we may not get that chance in week one of the preseason.
Secondly, Campbell won’t get any real creative usage during the preseason, so it could be hard to really get an idea of what his role in Frank Reich’s offense will be in 2019. I will be watching him carefully, but I’m not sure we’ll get to see much of the speedy rookie until the Colts face off against the Chargers in week one.
Who are you excited to see?