INJURY REPORT: TE Dwayne Allen, LB Jerrell Freeman, OG Hugh Thornton, and C Khaled Holmes have all been ruled OUT for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills.
Game time: 1:30 PM EST, Lucas Oil Stadium
Here are five key things to watch for as the Colts have their first pre-season game of the 2013 season.
1. New Offensive Line
Perhaps no bigger moves–quite literally–were made than on the offensive line this offseason. The Colts signed guard Donald Thomas and tackle Gosder Cherilus, as well as using their second and third draft picks on Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes, to upgrade the offensive line.
We may only get a small glimpse of what the Colts’ new first-team offensive line looks like, and it may not even be 100 percent decided at this point, but the unit out there this afternoon could very well be the same one that trots onto the field in the Colts’ week one game against the Raiders.
Protecting Andrew Luck–who was sacked 41 times last year–was offseason priority number one. The Colts did what they had to do to go and make some necessary upgrades, even if it meant over-spending a little bit for a guy like Gosder Cherilus. Luck is THAT important.
You will probably only see the starting unit play a series, maybe a few plays more than that depending on how the first one goes, but don’t expect a lot of Luck on Sunday. It’s possible the first-team OL will try to build some chemistry blocking for backup Matthew Hasselbeck.
2. New Offense in General
Pep Hamilton is taking over for now Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, and things are going to look a lot different this year for the Colts. For one thing, they are going to be a much more run-oriented team than before. Here are some things that will change quite a bit from last year that you will need to be aware of…
1. More running
2. Use of a Fullback
3. More two-TE sets
4. More frequent quick passes
In other words, the Colts are tailoring the offense for Andrew Luck. The run will set up the pass, the passes will be out of his hands quickly, allowing the receivers to make plays after the catch. The tight ends will be much better utilized, one of hte main reasons why everyone is buzzing about the development of Coby Fleener this offseason.
It remains to be seen how much Coby Fleener will play. He didn’t establish himself last year like Andrew Luck did, so he may see more extended action in the first pre-season game, especially with Dwayne Allen being ruled out with a foot injury. There’s no question about it, though, the story of training camp has been the second year tight end, and his rise to potential stardom.
Fleener has been catching nearly everything thrown his way at Colts camp, and by all accounts has made huge strides. Obviously the new offense better suits his skills, but he is also just getting used to the speed of the NFL and adjusting to everything. With more comfortable surroundings, expect to see some flashes of what the Colts can do with their dynamic weapon.
4. Griff Whalen
Andrew Luck’s former roomate at Stanford signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2012, and after a scintillating performance in the team’s final pre-season game, he went down with an injury and wound up missing the roster entirely. Now, heading into year two, Whalen has been described as the ‘darling’ of training camp, catching nearly everything thrown his way and cementing his status as the #4 receiver at least for the first four games in LaVon Brazill’s absence.
Whalen will get a chance to show what he can do on Sunday, and if it’s anything like what he’s been doing at camp, he’ll be just fine.
5. The Imports
The Colts have so many unique players at the rush OLB position. I will be keeping a close eye on free agent signee Erik Walden, first rounder Bjoern Werner, and all of the other imports the Colts have at the position. They have former CFL defensive player of the year Justin Hickman entering his second season with the team, fighting for a roster spot, former rugby player Daniel Adongo in the fold, and former arena-league player Caesar Rayford also looking to make the roster.
They also have a member of the Army, linebacker Josh McNary, who was a star pass rusher in college playing inside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. It will be very interesting to see how they are able to use him and what kinds of packages he plays in.
Either way, I’m really pumped to see how these players perform. The Colts may have another gem on their hands like they found last year in Jerrell Freeman.