What to look for Saturday as the Cowboys host the Colts

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Scott Tolzien

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ preseason meeting Saturday with the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium:

  • Kickoff: 7 p.m.
  • Broadcast: FOX59.

Offense, please:

Improvement from the front-liners is required after what we saw against the Detroit Lions, and let’s admit one thing – the bar is low. Scott Tolzien directed three series that resulted in 27 total yards, one first down, one sack and three punts.

The starters should see more playing time against the Cowboys, and could alleviate the mounting concerns created by Andrew Luck’s absence and a wildly inconsistent training camp. All it takes is showing some semblance of efficiency and productivity.

“Put points on the board,’’ Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton said. “First drive we should go out and move the ball and continue after that. So, whatever happens, happens, but we have to move the ball.’’

There’s a chance Tolzien’s supporting cast will be upgraded. Wideout Phillip Dorsett, who’s been dealing with a balky hamstring, is expected to play, and needs to play. Rookie running back Marlon Mack should get some work after missing the Lions game with a shoulder injury. Left guard Joe Haeg (burner) might start.

However, wideouts Donte Moncrief (shoulder) and Chester Rogers (hamstring) probably won’t play.

Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski wants his group to get its act together. It mustered just 140 total yards until Stephen Morris led a 90-yard scoring drive to close the game. It was penalized seven times, four of which were enforced.

“I’d like to see us clean up,’’ Chudzinski said. “We had a number of guys who were here for two or three days going into that game and playing. I’d like to see growth from that perspective, of guys knowing what to do.

“It’s not just knowing what to do, it’s the how to do it.’’

Defense taking shape:

Maybe we’ll finally get a glimpse of coordinator Ted Monachino’s new-look defense. Although rookie safety Malik Hooker probably will held out of the game with a shoulder injury, the bulk of the starting unit should be intact. That includes four players who missed the Lions game: tackle Johnathan Hankins, inside linebackers Jon Bostic and Antonio Morrison and cornerback Rashaan Mathis.

The starting unit played sparingly but took an encouraging first step against the Lions. Vontae Davis deflected a Matthew Stafford pass on Detroit’s first drive, resulting in a John Simon interception. The defense forced a three-and-out on the second series. Efficiency gradually disintegrated as substitutions increased.

The defense should get a stiff test against the Cowboys, depending upon how much some of their high-profile players are on the field. In its opener against the Rams, Dallas held out seven of 11 starters, including QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WRs Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley and TE Jason Witten. Everyone, save Elliott, is expected to see playing time versus the Colts.

Eyes on: T.J. Green:

The team used its 2016 second-round pick on the big, athletic safety out of Clemson, knowing full well he still was an unfinished product. Green had played the position only two years in college and, not surprisingly, was inconsistent as a rookie.

This week, Green began taking serious practice reps at cornerback. Most were with the starting unit. No one should be surprised if the 6-3, 211-pounder sees more action at corner than safety against the Cowboys. It’s not a matter of if he lines up at corner, it’s how soon?.

“You see he has a lot of talent. We have all known that,’’ Monachino said. “We are just at this point trying to scratch around and find out who our best four guys are. If T.J. is one of those four, then we need to find him a place to play because that safety group is strong.’’

We’re not opposed to the experiment. We just wonder why it wasn’t done in April and May.

Eyes on, Part II: Marlon Mack:

The fourth-round draft pick is supposed to inject big-play potential into the Colts’ running game. He was a long-distance threat at South Florida, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Mack rushed for 15 touchdowns as a senior, and six were 43 yards or longer.

While Mack flashed his breakaway speed during camp, a shoulder injury limited his recent work and kept him out of the Lions game. He needs to play, and is expected to play against the Cowboys.

“I’d like to see him. I haven’t seen much of him in pads,’’ Chudzinski said. “He hasn’t been repping things (in practice), so he’s a little bit behind in that way. He needs to catch up. We’ll get him in and we’ll give him plenty of action to see what he can do and see how far we can take him.