After a long wait, the Indianapolis Colts are set to kick off the 2019 season with a preseason opener in Buffalo. This will be the much anticipated first opportunity for players to face a new group of opponents and hit someone wearing enemy colors. It will be the first opportunity for young players who are looking to earn their way onto the roster to translate their work on the practice field into a live game situation and show coaches that they will produce if they are called upon when the lights are on.
It is worth repeating an important observation about preseason games. While every representative of the Colts, from fans to coaches and the team’s owner, wants to win the game, the priority today is individual player evaluation. Preseason football includes some of the most vanilla play-calling fans will see all season.
Coaches will not tip their hand early for regular season opponents and that means players will be put in situations that often give their opponent the advantage. It is a true test of individual ability when one player gets to face another in a formation or on a play that is reasonably predictable.
Fans may want to do themselves a favor and focus less on the overall product or outcome and instead identify a player or players to watch from start to finish.
Arguably, the two top position battles heading into tonight’s game are at middle linebacker and cornerback.
Rookie Bobby Okereke will get his first chance to take the field against NFL competition in a live game situation and he has been challenging Anthony Walker for the chance to start next to Darius Leonard. He has speed and range that Walker doesn’t have but will have to show that he can hold his own against the running game he wants to stay on the field on early downs.
Rookie corner Rock Ya-Sin has been the darling of training camp so far, forcing numerous turnovers and playing physical in coverage. His production in practice places him squarely in competition with Quincy Wilson for starting reps. How will he fair when NFL officials get a taste of how physical he can be with his opponents? How comfortable will he be in zone against an unfamiliar team? He has some tests to pass and is carrying a lot of momentum into the game.
Others who will be intriguing to watch include Nate Hairston and Jalen Collins who may be battling to stick with the team in a rotational role. Rookie E.J. Speed has garnered his share of attention in training camp and will have a chance to show that he can translate all that he has learned to the field against far superior competition. Second-year defensive end Kemoko Turay showed early signs that he could create pressure off of the edge and should get some opportunities to show how he has developed. Also, defensive tackle Jihad Ward was an absolute terror in limited snaps early last season before he suffered a season-ending injury. Can he pick up where he left off and carve out a bigger role in 2019?
Jacoby Brissett will be getting the most on-field action he has received since last year at this time. Last year, it was his first year in his second new system in two years. This year, Brissett is entering a contract year and will be out to prove to the Colts and the rest of the league that he is a valuable asset on any team. Can he do enough in preseason to encourage another team to bring him on as a long-term starter?
Wide receivers Deon Cain and Chester Rogers each have a lot of pressure on them to carve out their respective roles on the 2019 roster. If Parris Campbell can get healthy and get back onto the field he could presumably work his way up to as high as number three on the depth chart. There may be only two additional receiver spots available. Cain and Rogers will have to beat out challenges from Daurice Fountain, Zach Pascal, and Marcus Johnson who were all active on the roster at various times throughout the 2018 season.
Running back Jonathan Williams has turned in some impressive training camp performances over the last couple of weeks. The coaching staff has been high on him and this is his first real chance to prove that he deserves to stick after cuts are made. Will the Colts keep four running backs? If they don’t can Williams beat out Jordan Wilkins?
Tight ends Mo Alie-Cox and Hale Hentges are both worth monitoring closely. Hentges has turned in some pretty impressive training camp performances in what is arguably the deepest and most talented tight end room in the NFL. Can he work his way onto the roster as an H-Back and/or as the fourth tight end? For Alie-Cox, can he prove consistency in concentration when catching passes?
The battle for the final four or five spots on the offensive line will also be interesting during the preseason. Le’Raven Clark will have to battle Antonio Garcia and Jackson Barton, while Joe Haeg and Evan Boehm will have to battle Josh Andrews and Jake Eldrenkamp for spots on the inside.
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7pm PM ET on Thursday, August 8, 2019
New Era Field – Buffalo, NY
Courtesy of 506 Sports, here are the local television listings:
WXIN (FOX/59 - Indianapolis)
WBKI (CW/58 - Louisville)
WFFT (FOX/55 - Fort Wayne IN)
WBND (ABC/57 - South Bend IN)
WTWO (NBC/2 - Terre Haute IN)
WPBY (ABC/35 - Lafayette IN)
WTVW (CW/7 - Evansville IN)
WCIX (My/49 - Champaign IL)
Play-By-Play: Greg Rakestraw
Color Analyst: Rick Venturi
Sideline: Larra Overton
WFNI (107.5FM/1070 The Fan) and WLHK (Country 97.1 Hank FM)
Play-By-Play: Matt Taylor
Color Analyst: Jim Sorgi
Sideline: Jeffrey Gorman
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