It is upon us: the all-important third preseason game in which teams play their starters throughout the entire first half, and we're told actually means something.
Of course, it's still presesason, and I put zero stock into it in terms of team performance. What I will be looking for, on the other hand, is how individuals perform, as I do every week.
With that in mind, here's what I'll be watching for in this week's game against the Cleveland Browns (aside from Andrew Luck, of course, who is always fun to watch).
The OL Savior's Debut (plus another rookie)
For the first time this preseason, Hugh Thornton is expected to make an appearance. While he won't start (that designation goes to the immortal Jeff Linkenbach), he should get a decent amount of reps, hopefully a few with the first team.
Thornton is the Colts' best hope to stave off another full season of Mike McGlynn at right guard. While it's hard to envision him starting Week 1, no matter how impressive he is today, a solid performance could go a long way in solidifying the coaches' trust in him later in the season.
Another rookie I'll be watching closely today is first-round pick Bjoern Werner. Werner didn't have a great performance last week, failing to set the edge against the run and struggling to produce in pass rushing. Don't get me wrong, he showed flashes in pass rush scenarios of the talent that persuaded the Colts to draft him, but he needs to put it together to get hits and sacks, especially against teams' second-team offensive line.
We know Werner is a bit of a project, but the Colts desperately need some of the pass-rushing production from him this season to offset the loss of Dwight Freeney.
The Human Action Figure Returns
LaRon Landry, resident Hulk at the Colts' complex, returns to the lineup this week along with Pat Angerer. The two starters haven't had much chance in training camp to gel with the defensive unit, so it will be interesting to see how the linebackers and secondary members work together in their return.
But what most people really want to see is Landry. He's been lauded by teammates, coaches and media alike during the offseason, and the Colts certainly could use a physical presence there. They've seen too many runs go for big gains in the first two weeks of the preseason, and Landry should be a big boost in that area.
Will he also be a boost in coverage? That's yet to be seen. His aggression and fast play can certainly be an asset, but if used recklessly it can also lead to blown coverages. Today we get our first sample of what he can bring. Good or bad, it's sure to be interesting.
Can Caesar Rayford do it again?
The bright light that has been Caesar Rayford this preseason: is it the headlight of a train barelling down the tracks toward a season-long job in Indianapolis or just a flash in the pan, a preseason enigma?
Through two games Rayford has three sacks, a hit and two hurries, the most quarterback pressures of any Colt along with PFF's fourth-highest pass-rushing grade of any 3-4 OLB (Jerry Hughes is first… hahahahahahahahaha). Rayford's sacks have come against the third-team offense, sure, and he hasn't shown any really technically-sound moves, but the effort level is there, and has led to production.
Production leads to attention, and Rayford certainly has the attention of the Colts' coaches.
If his success continues this week and next, it will be hard for Chuck Pagano to keep Rayford off the roster. If he fades away, he'll likely become a practice squad member at best.