It is finally that time. For the last two weeks NFL football has been back in full swing. Free agency has been as chaotic as promised and training camps have worked quickly to bring new players up to speed. This brevity of the off-season, specifically the training for players, has made it difficult for fans to get a good idea where their teams stand.
The Colts have traditionally treated the preseason as a training ground and competition for players who are trying to make a roster spot and are quick to get starters off of the field to protect them from injuries. With that in mind, there are several players, match-ups, and areas of the team that will be looked at through a microscope — even if it is only Week 1 of the preseason.
Colts Defensive Line
A lot of changes have occurred since 2010 that could yield promising results for a unit that has traditionally be looked down upon. Fili Moala showed improvement in his second season and earned a starting job. Antonio Johnson was re-signed to serve as the team’s primary nose tackle. Free agent Tommie Harris, once considered the best defensive tackle in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, is attempting to reinvigorate his career. Third round draft pick Drake Nevis has joined the team and has impressed a lot of fans attending camp. Eric Foster also returned to the roster.
The biggest concern for the defensive tackles is their role in stopping the run. The first team working against Steven Jackson will be a real test. How the rotation is used early in the game may also indicate how the coaches feel the group is coming along. Will Harris get penetration like he used to? Will Moala show further development?
The starting defensive ends are not a concern but there is a chance for a showdown between Rodger Saffold (the offensive tackle who Bill Polian said he made a mistake passing up in the 2009 NFL Draft) and Jerry Hughes. If Hughes shows improvement, lines up over Saffold, and can give him trouble it could go a long way to earning respect from fans who were upset that he did not produce more in his rookie season. Jamaal Anderson will also get a chance to show his stuff on a new roster. Throw in John Chick as a player who has spent an entire year getting comfortable with the Colts defensive system and working with a training staff who could mold him however the coaching staff saw fit.
Colts Offensive Line
There may not be a bigger area of the team under analysis than the offensive line. Two rookie tackles will be facing their first NFL competition in a non-practice environment. Guards Jacques McClendon and Joe Reitz have been getting a lot of time at left guard throughout training camp and neither of them have spent meaningful time going against live competition with the Colts. Mike Pollak is in a do or die season and needs to show fans that he is ready to live up to his second round draft billing. Even Jake Kirkpatrick, an undrafted rookie center out of TCU will have a lot of attention focused on him because Jeff Saturday is not getting any younger and could be playing his final season.
Kick and Punt Returners
Last year the potential kick and punt returners on the roster were a disaster. Only Devin Moore survived in the role while Brandon James and Ray Fisher, who were both standout returners in college, failed to live up to their hype. Now players like David Gilreath, Joe Lefeged, and Chad Spann all know that their ability to contribute on special teams could push them over the edge and onto the roster.
Cornerback Kevin Thomas
Thomas is a 2010 third round draft pick who suffered a season-ending knee injury during rookie mini camp. He has missed much of training camp nursing another injury and has recently returned. Now he will have a chance to show his talents to the Colts fan base for the first time. With Indianapolis parting ways with veteran Kelvin Hayden, Thomas has a lot of pressure thrown in his direction to step up.
Running Backs Donald Brown and Delone Carter
Although the running back competition goes very deep and includes players like Chad Spann, Devin Moore, and Darren Evans, Brown has yet to show consistency and Carter promises to be a bruising style of running back the Colts have not had for a long time. One player has a lot of pressure due to the promise of positive reactions during training camp, particularly on the goal line (Carter). The other will need to be productive if he hopes to be the primary counterpart to Joseph Addai.
While there are many other stories that could come out of the first preseason action for the Colts, how these turn out will significantly impact the hopes of fans early in 2011. One thing is certain, after 2010, the team could really do without any significant injuries.