We’re coming up on the preseason dress rehearsal game at home against the Browns this Saturday. For the casual fan, week three of the preseason is typically the most you’ll see the starters play before the season opener.
Head Coach Chuck Pagano is expecting many of the front line players to see some extended playing time. “Normally, what you’d like to do is play a half, go in, make your adjustments and come out and play a series in that third quarter,” he said.
Pagano said it’s more about play counts than quarters, and added that, “We always take it case-by-case. If we got a veteran guy that is over a number that we’ve deemed from a play-count standpoint before the half, then we likely get a guy out.
“A guy like Cory (Redding), a guy like Reggie (Wayne), those type of guys that have got enough snaps under their belt. Typically, go in, make your adjustments, come out, play a series in the third quarter and start to make substitutions from there.”
As the game draws near, there are a few players building momentum and others who are still searching for it. We’ll take a closer look at a little of each, and get kind of a fun take on Caesar Rayford, as well as some injury updates from Coach Pagano.
Building Momentum: Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck posted a 133.7 quarterback rating and threw for two touchdowns against the Giants on Sunday, but he was quick to point out that one of those scoring passes bounced off New York cornerback Aaron Ross. “Glad we could put some points up,” Luck said. “Obviously, a fortuitous bounce on one of the touchdowns. I think we improved on Week 1. That’s always a plus, but still a lot of room for improvement. Still got to get better.”
Despite all the praise Luck has received in the past couple days for his brief but solid showing, he has already targeted some areas in which he wants to improve this week. What else would one expect from Luck? “I think third down, third-and-short to third-and-long, making sure we can convert some third downs,” he said. “That’s so important in keeping drives alive. Then red zone passing, making sure we’re completing balls in the red zone and getting touchdowns.”
Those are all great areas to focus on, but, as one media member pointed out, what about that quarterback slide technique? (Luck did more of a ‘quarterback charge forward and fall over’ after a 14-yard scramble against New York) “(Laughs) I think it always will be a work in progress,” Luck said. “I do need to work on that.”
Banged up Fleener Stymied but Never Discouraged
It seemed one of the top sports stories in Indianapolis yesterday was ‘What’s wrong with Coby Fleener?’ By most accounts, Fleener appeared poised to make a significant second year jump, and he backed it up in training camp.
Then there came the first preseason game, where he suffered a concussion. On Sunday, Fleener injured a knee. Along the way, there were some surprising drops, and suddenly, people here and there are writing him off – not everyone, mind you, but they made their presence known on sports radio call in shows.
Yesterday, the young tight end was upbeat and ready to put these last two weeks behind him. “Enormously frustrating, to put it lightly I guess,” Fleener said of his recent struggles. “I think the only thing you can do is try to learn from your mistakes and work and get better and move on.”
He didn’t pretend to have any excuses when asked if there are things the casual viewer can’t see going on when someone like himself drops a pass. “In the good majority of cases where you say he should have caught that one, I probably should have caught it,” Fleener said. “There’s some nuances to it of some things that we see that you guys may not see, but any ball that’s thrown your way, you want to catch it.”
Fleener has held himself accountable and avoided falling back on his injuries, so I’m going to do it for him (but only a little). The guy wasn't quite at 100% and just had an awful preseason game. At his worst in 2012, he was generally better than that. Even if he doesn’t wind up improving much versus last year (and based on his training camp, improvement is very likey), once he’s at full speed, he’ll look better than he did the past couple weeks.
Running Backs and Offensive Line Looking for Improvement
Obviously, the running backs had a rough outing on Sunday, averaging a collective 2.3 yards per carry (excluding Luck’s run). Some of it was on the offensive line, as is generally the case when the backs struggle that badly, but Vick Ballard believes there are things he can do to improve against Cleveland.
“Yeah, last game, I had four yards,” Ballard said. “That’s not a day I wanted to have. I think we’re going to be a little more productive this game. I think this week we’re paying more attention to detail. It’s the smaller things that will enable us to do so.”
Offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo has played well by most accounts and is widely considered to be the team’s best blocker. He was asked what needs to be done for the run blocking that the average fan might not see. “Yeah, it all just comes down to just finishing the blocks just a second longer, keeping the holes open, letting the running back get a little more daylight. Once we do that, it’ll come.”
Certainly, the running backs and offensive line will be determined to have a better showing this week. It’s nice to hear that neither unit is pointing fingers at the other. Their main weapon is still the quarterback, but he could certainly use a little help from the run game.
Get to Know Caesar Rayford
For anyone who reads these things, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of Rayford. His combination of long shot, underdog appeal and raw physical talent (and being 6-7 267) is more than a little intriguing, and, as it turns out, he is very candid as well. Here are some of his quotes from yesterday when he talked extensively with the media (I really did leave a couple out, honest), followed by a cool quip from DE Cory Redding. Get ready to go off the script.
Rayford on being another case of the Colts front office finding talent wherever it may be: “Oh yeah, definitely. I always tell the story, you got the guys that get the front door. You got the guys that get the back door. Then you got guys like me that got to climb the house and jump through the chimney. Hopefully, that landing doesn’t hurt too bad and get back up. It’s definitely blessed for the opportunity and getting found.”
Rayford on what drives him: “Just the passion. I love football. Just to drive myself. I always thought, I’ve always felt like I was a good football player. So I’ve always had this mental struggle with myself to prove it to myself to keep working, keep working and just trying to excel to be great and excel to play at the top of my game.”
Rayford after being told he looks more like he belongs in the Pacers locker room: “I did play basketball. I was recruited out of high school for basketball. I still play basketball a lot in my offseason. That’s like my conditioning because I do love playing some basketball. That was my first love.”
Any good at basketball? “I was alright,” he said. “I was cool. I worked my tail. I was a defensive player so I was what you call a garbage man. Go after the boards, put it back in. Definitely love playing some basketball.” They then jokingly asked Rayford if he was a Dennis Rodman type of player. “Correct,” he answered laughing. “There you go. Right there.”
Rayford on whether he ever played offense in football, like, say, wide receiver: “I did play a little tight end. I just had more passion on the defensive side. In high school a couple times, I’d catch the ball and get dinged in the knee a couple times and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do that.’ I definitely had a passion on defense because I’m always just relentless and go and don’t think and just go and make plays. I definitely like the defensive side.”
Rayford on being closer than ever before to his dream: “This definitely is the closest first time for everything. It’s definitely awe. It’s definitely awe and I’m truly blessed to be in this opportunity and try and make the best of it.”
On whether he allows himself to think about the possibility he might make the team: “Oh yeah. You’ve always got to think positive like that. If you don’t think that way, you see yourself going out real quick. Just got to say hey, every day is a challenge. Every day is a new day. Every day got to make plays and got to do what I can to make this ball club.”
When asked whether he’s done enough to stand out this preseason, Rayford was serious and echoed Chuck Pagano’s concerns about his run defense ability, saying, “I feel like I’ve done some things and I feel like there are some things that I need to work on. Definitely the transition because being in arena, it’s pass, pass, pass. I think my big transition is to be stout and set the edge on the run. I feel like I turned some heads. Still, there’s some work to be done and can’t be complacent. Just got to keep pushing.”
Lastly, Cory Redding was asked if he was cheering Rayford on, so to speak. There are a million canned, safe answers to give here. “I’m cheering him on big time,” Redding answered. “That’s what I said in the locker room. We’re trying to find guys that are going to be with us down the road. He’s one of those guys. He’s battling every day.
“You can barely tell he’s in the building. He don’t say a word. He’s in his playbook. He sits in the meeting room and takes all the notes. He just goes out on the field and just produces. That’s what we have him in here for. We got to trust that he stays on top of his technique and his plays so that when he gets his opportunity to go out there, he can make the best of it which he did in the last two games.”
Wait a second, there, Cory, this guy just talked everybody’s ear off. One media member said that (Redding’s description) was a bit surprising, since Rayford seems like such a great talker. “He talks with his plays,” Redding said. “He isn’t saying nothing to me. I say hello to him every day.”
Injury Updates from Pagano
Pagano addressed injuries in his opening statement. “Good afternoon, good to see everybody,” he began. “Injury update, (Coby) Fleener is the same. He’s day-to-day. Dwayne Allen, we’ll start to work him back into practice this week. We’ll monitor his reps. Lawrence Sidbury, again, he’s going to get a second opinion. We’ll know more on him either later in the week or early next week. More than likely doubtful for this game, probably won’t play. And then Fili (Moala), we took off of PUP and we’re going to start to work him in. Don’t anticipate, unless something drastic changes, him playing this week but good to have him back off PUP and work him back in the mix.”
Pagano added that although he practiced some, he doesn’t currently expect Ahmad Bradshaw to play against the Browns.
On much anticipated rookie linemen Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes, Pagano said, “They’re day-to-day. They’re doing a lot better than they were. It looks like we might be able to get Hugh back involved in some things this week. Again, it’s day-to-day but I think Hugh is a little bit ahead of where Khaled is and should be able to get in there. Whether he’ll play this weekend or not depends on how he progresses throughout the week.”
So, just about injured player is day-to-day right now. Bradshaw and Moala aren’t likely to play this week, and Lawrence Sidbury’s injury could be a serious one, since he is seeking a second opinion.
All quotes are courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts Public Relations Department.
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