INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The one palatable portion of the NFL’s disliked-but-necessary preseason – week 3’s dress rehearsal – apparently is drawing its final breath.
That certainly will be the case Saturday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium when the vast majority of the front-line players for the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears will be watching, not participating.
Two teams that met in the Super Bowl after the 2006 season essentially will be reconvening in Backup Bowl.
Frank Reich initially planned on playing his starters a few series against the Bears in what would have been their final exposure of the preseason. However, he reversed course Tuesday evening after discussing things with general manager Chris Ballard.
“Just decided you’re probably not going to see most of the 1s this game,’’ Reich said Wednesday. “This will be a great opportunity for those guys who do get to play to get even more reps.’’
It’s uncertain if Jacoby Brissett once again starts in place of rehabbing Andrew Luck, but fans looking forward to seeing most marquee players will be disappointed.
Reich insisted several factors went into his decision.
“One,’’ he said, “just looking at the health of the team. Just thinking, ‘Hey, they weren’t going to play much anyway. Really are we getting much out of five or seven or eight reps for the risk you incur by putting those guys out there?’’’
Also, he added, “I’m pretty sure (the Bears are) not playing a lot of their guys.’’
That’s an indication Reich and Bears coach Matt Nagy exchanged personnel game plans.
“I was thinking we were going to play a little bit,’’ Reich said. “The fact that they weren’t playing theirs, that did kind of help push me over the edge.’’
The scaled-down exposure for front-line players in the preseason is a league-wide trend, although not necessarily one discussed at length between coaches. Apparently all it takes is a few texts.
“Everybody’s doing it,’’ Reich said. “Haven’t really had long discussions with any other head coaches about the philosophy or the reasons we’re doing it. It’s just more text messages.’’
The usual exchange:
“You playing your guys this week?’’
“You playing yours?’’
“That’s pretty much the extent of the conversation,’’ Reich said with a smile.
That in mind, it’s worth noting T.Y. Hilton’s first snap in a game situation since the Jan. 12 playoff loss at Kansas City will come Sept. 8 against the Los Angeles Chargers. He didn’t play in the first two preseason games and probably won’t play against the Bears.
“It doesn’t matter to me,’’ Hilton said. “It’s up to the coaches. If they need me out there, I’ll be out there. If they don’t, then that’s it.’’
He was on the field for 48 snaps last preseason.
Other Colts will have played some, but not much. That includes: Anthony Castonzo (19 snaps), Ryan Kelly (19), Quenton Nelson (11), Marlon Mack (16), Jack Doyle (13), Eric Ebron (nine), Darius Leonard (11), Pierre Desir (27), Kenny Moore II (11), Denico Autry (11) and Justin Houston (11). And of course Luck (zero).
The first time the offensive line will be intact is the Chargers game.
Again, circumstances convinced Reich to adopt an approach to the preseason that goes contrary to what he used to believe in.
“To be honest, it’s a little hard for me to let that go,’’ he said. “I’ve got a lot of years of week 3 being the dress rehearsal and your 1s playing a significant amount of time.’’
Traditionally in week 3, starters played the first half, went into locker room for halftime adjustments, then came out for the first series of the third quarter. That gave everyone the feel for what was to come when games counted. Starters rarely play in week 4.
“I’ve been leaning away from that as far as the amount of time (starters needed),’’ Reich said. “We’ve pretty much always gone about a quarter.’’
The willingness to greatly reduce exposing front-line players to preseason snaps also is a byproduct of the Colts being in the second year with Reich and his staff, and the roster being more settled at the top. Last summer, Reich and Ballard were committed to laying the foundation of a perennial contender.
The bottom-line objective has shifted. Player evaluation, along with avoiding injuries, is paramount.
“Right now the best thing is we’re looking to figure out who are the guys that are going to make this roster. That’s one objective,’’ Reich said. “The other objective is to get ready for the season opener.’’
Houston and Castonzo are immersed in their ninth preseason. As rookies, each needed the extended work. No, not so much.
At this point of his career, Castonzo noted “you just kind of want to get back on the field playing. After like five plays, you feel like, ‘OK, I’m back in game mode again.’
“You basically have to treat practices like games.’’
Added Houston: “The older you get, the less you feel like you need (to play). You’ve seen it all, done it all. You know what it takes to prepare your body.’’
On a larger scale, it’s all about being as ready as possible for the opener.
“Coaches want to be safe with their players,’’ Houston said. “They don’t want to put their main players in a tough situation and maybe lose that key guy that can make a difference between winning one game and 10 games.
“They’re just trying to take care of the players and make sure they’ve got all their weapons when the season starts.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51
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