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Recap: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down from Colts’ 21-18 preseason victory over Panthers

What were the biggest takeaways following Indy’s 1-0 preseason start?

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It feels nice to have Colts football back, doesn't it? After winning their preseason opener over the Carolina Panthers, 21-18, what stood out most from a surprisingly thrilling matchup? Below, a new series that will come after every Colts game: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down. I will look into how a player or area of the game looked, then categorize it in a positive or negative manner.

Without further ado, let’s dive into Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down — preseason edition!

Thumbs Up: Jacob Eason

When given time to throw, 2020 fourth-round pick Jacob Eason popped as a quarterback who could help the Colts survive a few weeks without Carson Wentz. Playing the entire first half, Eason finished 15-of-21 for 183 yards. Making quick decisions and showcasing his beautiful arm talent, Eason had multiple throws we just haven’t seen from a Colts QB in a few years. A few beautiful deep concepts to Parris Campbell and Michael Strachan showed that Eason can sling it when asked, a fun idea to think about if he needs to start the regular season opener versus the Seattle Seahawks,

This performance from Eason would’ve been better without the three sacks, which didn’t help due to his lack of mobility. However, the big takeaway from this point falls right into our first Thumbs Down from today’s action.

Thumbs Down: Left Tackle

My oh my, what a disaster left tackle is right now for the Colts. Indianapolis better hope Eric Fisher is somehow back for Week 1, if not they’re in serious trouble of capping the offense’s potential.

Julien Davenport and Will Holden were turnstiles on the blindside, continuously allowing pressure in every which way. Sam Tevi was so horrendous in training camp that he’s been officially moved over to right tackle, where he started today.

If this trend continues throughout preseason, and it easily could, what exactly should the Colts do if Fisher isn’t available for Week 1? It might be time to try to find another option after roster cut-downs, if that scenario is even plausible at this stage for Indianapolis.

Thumbs Up: Sam Ehlinger

The ‘It Factor’ GM Chris Ballard said about Ehlinger after drafting him in the sixth round was on fully display today. Although the arm talent is not starting-caliber, he’s a true gamer. Ehlinger helped lead the Colts on a game-winning drive late in the game as he played the entire second half.

The former Texas Longhorns QB finished his first ever NFL action 10-of-15 for 155 yards while also racking up 30 rushing yards with his plus mobility. Although Ehlinger threw an ugly interception intended for Kylen Granson, he rebounded and kept the football out of harms way from there on.

Ehlinger’s strong training camp leading into the preseason opener has made this a true quarterback competition with Eason. With Ehlinger expected to start next week against the Minnesota Vikings, I’ll be very intrigued to see how he fares.

Thumbs Down: Ben Banogu

Playing the entire game due to injuries across the defensive line, Banogu was a big disappointment for me not registering once n the box score. Although Banogu did recover a fumble late in the fourth quarter, he was not doing much at all out there. Banogu finished with zeros across the stat line outside of the aforementioned fumble recovery.

Although Banogu has continuously flashed throughout training camp, he needs to have it transfer to game action. So far in his three-year career, that’s yet to occur.

Thumbs Up: Young WRs

What a day for the Colts wideouts near the bottom of the depth chart. Strachan continues to be a seventh-round revelation, hauling in a jump ball from Eason late in the second quarter. He finished with 3 receptions for 57 yards, which keeps the trend continuing of the Bahamian wideout on track to make the 53-man roster.

Meanwhile, we also saw solid outings from Dezmon Patmon, Tarik Black, and Tyler Vaughns. With how loaded the Colts’ WR room is, potentially none of these three will make the final roster due to Ashton Dulin’s special teams ability. Patmon’s connection with Eason was on display early and often, while the undrafted duo in Black and Vaughns really stood out in the second half.

It will be interesting to see if any of these three will create separation from another. This is now a new storyline to follow heading into Week 2 at Minnesota.

Thumbs Down: Special Teams (Isaiah Rodgers muffed punt)

Special teams was honestly solid today, but I wanted to quickly mention the poor sequence from second-year cornerback Isaiah Rodgers. Muffing a punt on the opposite end of the field is a big no-no, and that’s exactly what occurred in the second half.

Luckily for the Colts, it didn’t cost them. However, I’ll be curious to see if Indy gives anyone else a real shot to backup Nyheim Hines as the primary punt returner. Rodgers should rebound, but had to make a quick note of this in the negatives from today.

Thumbs Up: Isaac Rochell

Honestly, I had written off Rochell as a player who could make the 53-man roster, largely in part due to the emergence from all the young pass rushers in training camp. Rochell had yet to make a real impact, but that started to change this week. After making a few strong sequences happen in joint practices against Carolina, it translated right over to Lucas Oil Stadium for Rochell.

Rochell tied for the game-high in tackles with five, including a quarterback hit. If Rochell keeps this up throughout preseason, we’re staring right down the barrel of a real roster spot battle between Banogu and the former Notre Dame product.