What to watch for: Indianapolis Colts vs. San Francisco 49ers in preseason game 3

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 20: Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass in the first quarter of a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 20, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Here’s a look at areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ preseason game with the San Francisco 49ers Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium:

Last chance: It’s the final tune up, in the words of Frank Reich. The last opportunity for the front-liners to get their act together leading up to the Sept. 9 regular season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. The vast majority of starters won’t step on the field Thursday when the Colts and Bengals wrap up the preseason at Paul Brown Stadium.

  • Kickoff: 4:30 p.m.
  • Broadcast: FOX59
  • Streaming: FOX59.com (Indy market only)

It’s imperative for the offense and defense to end their preseason work on an uptick, but let’s not kid ourselves. Our primary interest will hone in on Andrew Luck and a first-unit offense that has only flirted with its consistency. Luck has directed seven series in two games and come away with three Adam Vinatieri field goals, three punts and an interception.

The offense has shown occasional flashes with Luck under center with two 12-play drives and another that consisted of 9 plays. But against the Ravens, there were four three-and-outs, including Luck’s red-zone interception.

Look for Luck and most of the starters to play deep into the second quarter, although Reich made it clear playing time will be “fluid.” In two games, Luck has completed 12-of-22 passes for 114 yards with the interception and no touchdowns.

“Continue to get better, continue to improve, continue to feel better, continue to feel less awkward with certain things on the field,” Luck said, flipping through his ‘to-do’ list. “I would like to go out there and be smoother, have a little more rhythm. Put points on the board like always and then have the Colts come away with a win.”

The last box for Luck to check? Some deeper throws. He’s averaged a substandard 5.18 yards per attempt and 9.5 yards per completion.

Together, at last: So much has been made of the safety tandem the Colts possess with Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers. One’s a ballhawk, the other’s a thumper. Nice combination.

Here’s where we remind you how many times they’ve been on the field at the same time.

‘Never. Never,’” Geathers said. “But I saw how he played last year and I know he’s that same guy. Just to be out there with him, that is going to be something special.”

“We’ve played together none,” Hooker added, “so that’s even more exciting. Now I get to go out there and play alongside him.”

Hooker is the 2017 first-round draft pick whose rookie season was curtailed by a season-ending knee injury in week 7 against Jacksonville. He’ll make his preseason debut against the 49ers. Geathers is the 2015 fourth-rounder who missed the first nine games of ’17 while fully recovering from offseason neck surgery. He made his first preseason appearance Monday night against Baltimore, and made it noteworthy with two tackles and a forced fumble on special teams.

Hooker is considered a playmaker. He had three interceptions before going down. Geathers, a 12-game starter, is viewed as an enforcer for the back-end of the defense. There will be times coordinator Matt Eberflus will move him into the box as a linebacker.

Hooker and Geathers are the feature players in a safety room that includes Matthias Farley and T.J. Green. Reich views them as potential difference-makers.

“Getting excited about getting Hook back out there as well,” Reich said. “Two playmaking safeties can make a hug difference in a defense. I mean a huge difference.”

“I can’t wait to get this show on the road,” said Hooker, who undoubtedly will be on a pitch count against San Francisco.

Tackle troubles: The Colts started J’Marcus Webb at right tackle in the preseason opener at Seattle, and turned to rookie guard Braden Smith Monday night against Baltimore. Next up? Our guess is free-agent acquisition Austin Howard, who has yet to live up to expectations after signing a one-year, $3.75 million contract in May. Maybe Joe Haeg is the guy.

Also, Denzelle Good will see his first action of the preseason due to a hamstring injury and is expected to step in with the second unit and play for approximately 20 snaps. He’ll get another heavy dose in the preseason finale at Cincinnati.

Clearly, auditions remain open.

Reich wants the issue resolved after the San Francisco game, and we agree. The uncertainty created by injuries at both tackle spots has impeded the progress of the offensive line. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo likely will miss all of the preseason, but vows to be ready for the Bengals opener.

As to settling on the starting right tackle, Reich said, “We’re closer than we were two weeks ago, but we’re not there, yet. This game will weigh in heavily.”

Another chance? We can’t wait to see whether Reich gives rookie Nyheim Hines another opportunity to fix his ball security issues in the return game. The sixth-round draft pick is battling the “yips.” He lost a fumble on the second-half kickoff against the Ravens, and has bobbled or muffed three other return opportunities.

“It needs to get better,” Reich said.

The quickest way to convince the coaching staff you’re not the guy in the return game is to put the football on the turf.

During the week of practice, Hines was still fielding punts and kickoffs. He was joined by T.Y. Hilton, who only would be used in specific situations, and Chester Rogers.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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