Horseshoe Hero: Avery, Hilton Bolster Ailing Colts in Washington

Colts 17 – Redskins 30

The main storyline of Sunday’s preseason contest between the Colts and the Redskins was the much-anticipated quarterback duel between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the first and second over all selections in this year’s NFL draft. But the more obvious storyline as Sunday’s game in Washington unfolded was far more concerning: The Colts lack depth. Injuries on both offense and defense revealed the true, sky-high value of the Colts’ starting lineup as some back-up offensive linemen crumbled under pressure and the defense failed to stop the run. Without some major assets, the Colts will need to do some scrambling before settling on their final 53-man roster. The fact that they have first priority on the wavier wire helps. But in a veteran’s absence, two fresh faces did provide glimmers of hope at a key position: wide receiver.

Yes, this week there are two Horseshoe Heroes: Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton. Both are entering their first seasons with the Colts, one his first season ever in the NFL. With Austin Collie day-to-day after suffering his third (at least) concussion in the past 22 months, the Colts needed their backup wideouts to step up. These two seemed glad to do so.

Donnie Avery had 6 receptions, making him the second-most targeted WR from either team, for a total of 38 yards. Avery’s early presence was especially notable, because the game was his first outing of the preseason (He had previously been nursing a thigh injury sustained during training camp). Avery has become notorious for being injury-prone throughout his 5-year career. In fact, he missed the entire 2010 season after tearing his ACL. However, he is talented, and he was the first wide receiver taken in the 2008 draft. If he can stay healthy, Avery could prove to be a great option for Luck. It was nice to see an immediate chemistry and comfort-level between the two.

Rookie T.Y. Hilton was also impressive in Collie’s absence, pulling in 4 receptions for 54 yards, including a beautiful 31-yard touchdown pass from Luck. Hilton caught my eye on several plays, particularly on a first and 10 play at the Washington-45 in which Luck’s short pass right was tipped. The play easily could have gone the other way, but Hilton got his hands on the ball and turned the almost-turnover into an 8-yard gain down the sideline. Hardly rookie-like. Hilton was the team’s third pick in this year’s draft (3rd round, 92nd overall). He’s proving to be deserving of that selection.

Note: Griff Whalen, another rookie WR and former teammate of Andrew Luck, caught a game-high 8 passes for 66 yards. While he didn’t play with the first team, he showed he belongs in Indianapolis and probably secured himself a spot on the team, at least on the practice squad. An undrafted free agent, Whalen is one to watch in the future.

While the new wide receivers were the heroes of the game, the offensive linemen were not. The run game was practically non-existent, and Andrew Luck had to scramble on several occasions to avoid being clobbered by the Washington defense. In his final series, Luck took an especially brutal hit by linebacker London Fletcher that was downright scary to watch. While both the Colts and the Redskins executed 27 rushing plays, the Redskins almost tripled Indianapolis’ rushing yardage, 147-53. Sophomore left tackle Anthony Castonzo seemed to be the only strength of the line, while right guard Seth Olsen gave up two sacks in the same series. The injured Ben Ijalana and Mike McGlynn are sorely missed.

The Colts’ final preseason game will take place at home against Cincinnati on Thursday (8/30) at 7:00p.m. It’s likely the starters will not play much, if at all, for the final preseason contest is commonly used to evaluate players who may be on the bubble of making the team. A hero will still arise, though, and he will be revealed the following day right here on Naptown’s Finest. Be sure to check back to find out who it is, but until then, you can follow me on Twitter at @catierae08 for more frequent Colts updates and commentary. Don’t forget: According to Jim Irsay, there are still some pretty fierce trade winds blowing! A blockbuster could be thrust upon Colts Nation at any moment.

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Tags: Andrew Luck Anthony Castonzo Austin Collie Ben Ijalana Donnie Avery Indianapolis Colts NFL Preseason Robert Griffin Iii T Y Hilton Washington Redskins

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