There is very little denying the fact that the Colts played sloppy football on both sides of the ball in their preseason opener. If fans were expecting to see a well oiled machine that resembled a perennial playoff participant, they were shooting too high.
Too many pieces on the Colts roster are shifting around right now for the game to play out in the way a lot of fans desire. For me personally, I’m stunned when I read all of the disappointment and negativity on the basis of the outcome or “overall team performance” of a team as consistent as the Colts at 1) sucking in preseason and 2) dominating the NFL during the regular season. For those who are not aware, Indianapolis has a league record for most consecutive 10-win seasons as is and the opportunity to own the league record for consecutive playoff berths as well.
So, to quote the late Heath Ledger in Dark Night, “Why so serious?”
Don’t get me wrong. I would love to see the first string offense and defense take the field, dominate the opponent, display their greatness individually and collectively, and walk away from my television screen thinking… “yeah, this is what makes it great to be a Colts fan.” But the preseason, PARTICULARLY during a shortened off-season due to a major lockout, is not meant to serve that purpose or function.
Training camp and preseason serve the very important role of giving a team’s coaching staff and front office enough information to make good decisions about the regular season roster — when the games actually count. It gives rookies a chance to show their raw abilities, free agents a chance to show how they can be effective, and allows the team to nail down starters at contested positions. Think of it more as a “trial by fire” than as an “indication of how the team will perform in the coming season.”
With that in mind, there are a few things fans can take away from the game, both positive and negative.
This group of linebackers is shaping up quite nicely. While Kavell Conner is not a strong pass defender, he gave glimpses of why the front office chose to let Clint Session walk. He is a disciplined player who sticks to his gaps, tracks the ball well, and is very effective against the run. Both Angerer and Brackett should round out a solid group of starters.
Where things get more exciting for fans is when they come to the realization that Ernie Sims has looked very good in training camp and did not even see the field against the Rams, Philip Wheeler played better in the Colts system than he ever has before, and Adrian Moten looks like the kind of player who can be a pass coverage specialist. A lot of early promise.
While the defensive tackles have only had two weeks to work together in training camp to this point, they are looking like a group of players talented enough to give Indianapolis a legit defensive line. Drake Nevis looks stronger and more developed as a rookie than Fili Moala did at this point in his career (Moala did not play) and could be a key cog in the rotation right away. Antonio Johnson played well next to him.
Even the players behind them were strong enough individually to suggest that there is no reason why the team will not carry a strong rotation this year. Ollie Ogbu looks strong enough to be a front-runner for a practice squad spot, or in a strong competition with Ricardo Mathews for a final roster spot. The only player who did not live up to expectations has to be Tommie Harris. He played against second and third string offensive players but did not dominate in the way a former Pro Bowler should.
Although Al Afalava looked really active as a backup safety prospect, none of the others really stood out. One thing that made it difficult to assess the safeties is that very little long passing was done by the Rams. The jury will have to remain out on players like Joe Lefeged, Chip Vaughn, and Mike Newton.
Jerraud Powers is an outstanding NFL cornerback and is clearly the best cover corner on the team. 2010 third round pick Kevin Thomas had a mixed performance. On the one hand he was a much harder hitter than his frame would suggest. On the other hand, he missed a couple of tackles that could make the difference in stopping offensive drives during the regular season.
It was difficult to get a good read on the defensive ends. John Chick seemingly had few opportunities to make a difference. Jerry Hughes was in the game for a long time but did not stand out as a real difference maker. David Bedford was disappointing and was the only end that really looked like a huge liability.
If there is anything that is very clear at this point in the preseason – none of the Colts backup quarterbacks are ready to spend any meaningful time on the field during the regular season. Painter looked inaccurate and nervous. Orlovosky looked confident but incapable of executing. Nate Davis looked completely lost, like someone playing the position against competition over his head or even for the first time. Not good.
Donald Brown was the best looking running back on the field and showed the kind of vision and decisiveness he lacked in previous years. He cut back to get positive gains out of runs when the line was incapable of creating a hole and showed excellent speed and quickness. Good showing for him — hopefully more will come.
Delone Carter is a bowling ball of a running back who looks quite capable of getting difficult yards. What he lacks is the elusiveness on the second-level of a player like Mike Hart. What you see is what you get with Carter. Chad Spann also had a decent showing in his first action at running back. At kick returner? Not so much. He fumbled twice and has placed himself back significantly in making the team for special teams purposes.
The funny thing about the receivers is that the poor quarterback play did not do them any favors. Gonzalez and Collie were non-factors while Garcon showed excellent hands on a long sideline route. None of the receivers competing with Blair White (who is still on the PuP) were able to show anything encouraging enough to suggest White needs to worry.
What is it with the Colts and finding receiving tight ends. Understand that while Indianapolis needs more blocking tight ends, there are numerous NFL teams who would be stoked to have a player like Tamme or rookie Mike McNeil to stretch the middle of the field and be an outlet that takes attention off of receivers and running backs. McNeil looked good. Tyson DeVree caught a long pass. Can any of them block?
Although Mike Pollak still struggled at guard, he looked pretty good as the starting center. It’s funny, watching the difference in his play really highlights that the two positions have important differences. Both Jacques McClendon and Joe Reitz showed potential at left guard. Ryan Diem looked much the same. Jeff Linkenbach looked quite good in my opinion. I have been high on him since I watched him play in regular season games last year. I am not nervous at all if he has to start at either tackle position during the regular season.
The rookie tackles, Castonzo and Ijalana, showed flashes of good and bad. This is to be expected. They definitely have the raw skills and athletic ability to be effective offensive linemen. They do not have the experience or repetitions against NFL competition to be immediate starters. The good thing for them is that they have three more preseason games and four more weeks of practice to get that experience and become more comfortable.
Outside of uncertainty regarding depth at safety, quarterback, cornerback, and possibly the offensive line, Indianapolis looks really talented. Five linebackers are capable of being regular contributors. The defensive tackle rotation looks significantly improved from 2010. The tight end options are vast. The receivers are still incredibly talented and deep.
Put it this way. If the Colts can stay relatively injury free at a few thin positions, they are going to be a tough win for any team, any time, any where. At least that is how things look to me after one preseason game.