INDIANAPOIS – Areas of interest as the Indianapolis Colts open their preseason Saturday against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
- Kickoff: 4 p.m.
- Broadcast: FOX59.
Get in, get out
Frank Reich has made it clear most of his front-line players might play as much as a quarter. Offensively, that includes Matt Ryan and a line – Matt Pryor, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Danny Pinter and Braden Smith – that has been intact throughout camp (knock on wood). Wideouts Parris Campbell and rookie Alec Pierce should expect reps, but we’ll see about Michael Pittman Jr.
To us, this should be about quality, not quantity. Get in an efficient series or two – scoring would be nice, but move the chains, convert a few third downs, avoid mental mistakes and turnovers – and then have a seat.
The defense should follow a similar game plan: look sharp, react to the football, make a few plays. As much as Gus Bradley’s defense remains a work in progress, we’re not that interested in seeing much – if any – of DeForest Buckner, Yannick Ngakoue, Stephon Gilmore and Kenny Moore II.
The target date remains Sept. 11 at Houston. Yes, be as prepared as possible. But get there with your difference-making players healthy.
We’re expecting Jonathan Taylor to go through pregame warm-ups, then to stand and watch. He didn’t play a snap in the 2021 preseason and he shouldn’t play this preseason. Reich wants every player to approach games as if he’s going to play, but there probably are a handful of players who won’t take a preseason rep.
Taylor heads the list, although Reich declined to single out anyone. He said the team adjusts the camp regimen for any player who might be held out of preseason games after consultation with director of sports performance Rusty Jones and strength and conditioning coach Rich Howell.
Does that include perhaps a certain running back? Reich laughed.
“Yeah, whoever that might be,’’ he said. “That person might happen to get to the stadium a little earlier and do a little extra work on game day. So, we plan that out with Rusty and Rich and those players about how we are going to make sure they don’t decondition at all over a three- or four-day span.’’
Reich believes a running back, any player for that matter, might benefit from taking a hit or two in a preseason game, but the risk-of-injury factor can’t be ignored.
“Is it worth the one-in-a-million risk?’’ he asked. “Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.’’
For what it’s worth, three of the top five rushers from a year ago didn’t play in the ’21 preseason: Taylor, Cleveland’s Nick Chubb and Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook. Tennessee’s Derrick Henry hasn’t played in the preseason since 2018.
So far, left tackle belongs to Pryor. He’s taken every rep with the starting unit. Rookie Bernhard Raimann is working as his backup. Pryor has had more than a few difficult moments dealing with Ngakoue’s speed off the edge, but overall it looks as if he’s up to the task.
We’ll have a better idea if Pryor is the guy – he has 15 career starts in four seasons, but only one at left tackle – after the coming week. Even if Buffalo holds out ends Von Miller and Greg Rousseau, it possesses young talent in 2020 2nd-round pick A.J. Epenesa and 2021 2nd-round pick Boogie Basham. Wednesday and Thursday, Pryor will benefit from joint practices with the Detroit Lions.
Stepping up at WR
This is the time for a few wideouts to step up and separate themselves from the pack. Pittman and Campbell are in the midst of solid camps and sit atop the depth chart. Pierce also is handling serious reps with the starting offense, although the 2nd-round pick needs to experience the increase in the speed and intensity of preseason games.
After that trio, who emerges? Ashton Dulin has flashed. Keke Coutee has had his moments, as has Dezmon Patmon.
We’ve been at the head of the pack urging Chris Ballard to sign a veteran wideout. Now’s the time the players on the roster can assure the skeptics that’s not necessary.
Stepping up at TE
Recently, Kylen Granson has been more involved on offense – he’s the lone “F” tight end, who moves around in the formation and is more of a receiver – and Drew Ogletree seemly has passed Jelani Woods in the pecking order.
The coaching staff knows what it’s going to get with Mo Alie-Cox, but his young supporting cast much prove itself. The tight end remains an integral part of Reich’s offense.
What a kick(er)
Rodrigo Blankenship and Jake Verity are in the midst of competition to determine the Colts’ kicker, and there’s no better barometer than actual game situations. Both are 13-of-15 during practice sessions, and they’re scheduled to divvy up kicks at Buffalo; one kicking each half.
Reich and his staff are looking for consistency and the ability to knock down the 50-plus-yard attempt when necessary. Hopefully, the game’s flow will provide Blankenship and Verity with ample opportunities.
By the numbers (that don’t matter):
A pair of streaking teams meet in Orchard Park. The Bills have won eight straight preseason games while the Colts are working on a four-game win streak.
The Baltimore Ravens aren’t impressed. They pushed their preseason winning streak to 21 straight with Thursday night’s 23-10 win over Tennessee.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.