INDIANAPOLIS – There are several areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ preseason wrap-up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium:
*Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
*For starters: Jonathan Taylor will be held out his second straight preseason in its entirety, and we’re fine with that. He responded to not playing last year by leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,811) and total yards from scrimmage (2,171). And Nyheim Hines will be given Saturday night off as well. Again, no problem with us. His value to the offense is immense, and there’s no reason to risk losing him to an injury. We’d also be fine with keeping Michael Pittman Jr. out of harm’s way – lose him to an injury in the final preseason game and the receivers room looks totally different, and less menacing – but it appears he’ll get some meaningful snaps against the Bucs.
There are a few other players who won’t play – Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly (COVID), defensive end Kwity Paye (bone bruise), cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (concussion) – but the plan is for most starters to play into the second quarter.
Frank Reich’s rationale is the starting units didn’t play last Saturday against Detroit following two joint practices with the Lions and it would be detrimental for them not to see the field against Tampa Bay in preparation for the Sept. 11 opener at Houston. That would just be too much down time.
So, the Matt Ryan-led offense and Gus Bradley’s defense can anticipate significant reps, and it sounds as if it’ll be 1s vs. 1s. Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said, “Everyone who is healthy will play.’’
Ryan’s preseason workload consists of four series and 19 plays in the opener at Buffalo. It was a ho-hum debut for the Colts’ latest QB: 6-of-10, 58 yards, one field goal, one punt and two drives that ended on failed fourth-down plays. The entire offense was out of kilter as right tackle Braden Smith was penalized for a false start on fourth-and-goal at the 1 that led to Rodrigo Blankenship’s 24-yard field goal; a holding penalty on Kelly negated a nice run by Hines; left tackle Matt Pryor gave up a sack while also being penalized for holding on the play; and Parris Campbell dropped a third-down pass.
“The game work is important,’’ Reich said. “Just sync things up, get everybody on the same page, get the feel and the rhythm of what it’s like out there in Lucas Oil.
“Really, just iron out details, kind of get game ready and when we feel like we’ve got that work, we’ll put the guys out.’’
*O-line integrity: The focus undoubtedly will be sharpest on Ryan as he makes his first start in front of the home folks. But the attention should be on his protection.
How will Pryor and the rest hold up against a Bucs’ defensive front that features Shaquil Barrett, 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and free-agent acquisition Akiem Hicks? Barrett is a beast: 37.5 sacks in 46 games since relocating from Denver in 2019.
And if Vita Vea sees the field, how will All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, backup center Danny Pinter and backup right guard Will Fries fare against the 6-4, 347-pounder?
Ryan was decisive and accurate during training camp. But like every QB, he needs time to make his reads. In his last four seasons in Atlanta – all losing records, by the way – Ryan was sacked 171 times. Only Russell Wilson went down more often (179).
*Hello again, Tom: Tom Brady returns. Boos likely will rain down on him – we get that – but hopefully folks will take a second to at least privately enjoy the moment. One of these years, Brady will actually mean it when he announces his retirement.
But we understand the hostility.
Brady is 16-4 against the Colts, including 4-1 in the playoffs. He’s 5-3 in Indy: 5-2 against the Colts and a 21-17 loser to the Eli Manning-led New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI in Lucas Oil Stadium after the 2011 season.
Brady’s last visit to Indy was Nov. 28 when he led the Bucs to a 38-31 win that Leonard Fournette sealed with a 28-yard run with 20 seconds remaining.
Might his next visit be in 2023? If Brady decides to play another season and does so with the Bucs, he’ll return to Lucas Oil at some point next season. The NFL’s advanced scheduling format has the Colts playing the NFC South in ’23, and that includes home meetings with the Bucs and New Orleans.
*New punter: Rigoberto Sanchez announced on social media Friday he underwent successful surgery to repair a torn right Achilles tendon. Look for him to work his tail off and return to form in 2023.
The Colts replaced him with Matt Haack. We mention that so we can clear up the proper pronunciation. It’s Hawk.
*Final audition: If you pressed Chris Ballard and Reich on it, we’re betting that have a pretty good grip on their projected 53-player roster. Barring injuries that might occur in the game, they might have 47-48 players locked in. And that might be a low guesstimate.
The final cut is Tuesday.
The regular-season roster always is a balancing act. Do they keep four running backs, six wideouts and three tight ends? We thought perhaps five wideouts and four tight ends until rookie Drew Ogletree suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Is there room on the 53 for Sam Ehlinger, or does Ballard expose him to waivers on Tuesday and hope to re-sign him to the practice squad? Has Hamilton Heights H.S. product Sterling Weatherford done enough to earn a seat in the linebackers’ room?
We’re not sold on the offensive line depth, especially on the interior. Does Ballard and his staff find a better option when more than 850 players are waived/released Tuesday? Maybe they find an upgrade at guard, or tackle if Dennis Kelly’s knee issue remains a concern. Or maybe they find a fourth tight end.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.