After seven very long months, football has officially returned to Indianapolis. The Colts took the field for the first time since their playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Buffalo Bills in their first matchup of the preseason.
Several notable players sat out Sunday’s game, including LaRon Landry, Ahmad Bradshaw, Josh McNary, Jerrell Freeman, Pat Angerer, and Dwayne Allen, but there were plenty of other interesting players to watch. In traditional Horseshoe Hero fashion, I’ll highlight the players who shined the brightest in the team’s preseason debut. Here are my takeaways:
- Sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck looked good in his brief appearance Sunday. He played two series and went 4-6 for 51 yards and a sack. Luck continues to have a strong presence in the pocket and make good decisions. His goal for this season is to increase his completion percentage, an area in which he has already shown improvement during camp (Luck went 11-for-11 in passing during an afternoon practice session earlier this week). That should translate to the regular season, unless the offensive line doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The revamped line of Castanzo, Thomas, Satele, McGlynn, and Cherilus that started Sunday did not get off to a good start, giving up a sack (Luck took the blame for this), missing blocks, and botching snap counts. They have three more games to get in sync.
- Receiver T.Y. Hilton arguably had the play of the game when he made a diving catch in the end zone with no time remaining to give backup QB Matt Hasselbeck his first touchdown as a Colt, a 45-yarder. Hilton looks to be a huge asset on offense this season and can be electrifying as a punt returner. Fellow second-year receiver Griff Whalen also made several nice plays and has an uncanny ability to get open. Whalen, wearing the #17 jersey, plays eerily similar to former Colts #17 Austin Collie. Look for him to thrive under offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who had the same job at Stanford when Luck, Coby Fleener, and Whalen all played there together.
- On the ground, Vick Ballard and Donald Brown both played liked capable starting running backs, and rookie Kerwynn Williams also showed promise. Williams looks to have a lot of speed, though he struggled with his punt return game.
- It’s refreshing to have two capable backup quarterbacks (let’s not have a Curtis Painter flashback). Veteran Hasselbeck seemed comfortable in his new offense and could probably challenge for a starting job on a couple other NFL teams. Second-year QB Chandler Harnish also looked much improved from his rookie season and had a strong start, but he made some bad decisions late in the game.
- Pat McAfee may be the best punter in the league. Franchise tagged in the offseason, McAfee booted two balls inside the Bills’ 10-yard line. Similarly, each year that the Colts have Adam Vinatieri kicking their field goals is an absolute gift. Vinatieri is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
- The lone defensive highlight came from OLB Caesar Rayford, formerly of the AFL’s Utah Blaze. Rayford, who signed with the Colts in May, forced a Bills fumble, and rookie CB Daxton Swanson from Sam Houston State grabbed the ball and ran it 72 yards to the house for a Colts touchdown. Swanson was an undrafted free agent. That should get them noticed by the coaching staff.