Thank God this one doesn’t count.
The Colts are in tatters. Injuries everywhere, and many of the healthy starters won’t play because they are borderline antiques who require protection like the sofa you were forbidden to sit on “because it’s only for special occasions”.
Who wins preseason game #3 between the Colts and Philadelphia Eagles is irrelevant, but there are a number of sidebars that make it must see TV.
Roster spots are at stake, and the evaluation of the critically important 2016 draft class continues. Andrew Luck is back from injuries, and his progress needs to be charted as well.
The two most crucial issues remain – as they do for every NFL franchise – can the Colts get to the quarterback, AND can they keep the other team from getting to their QB?
Here are the 10 big questions the Colts hope to answer tomorrow night against the Eagles:
10 – Is Chester Rogers a lock for the 53-man roster? Through camp and two preseason games, Rogers looks like an NFL wide receiver, but doing that against defenses stocked with shabby talent destined for the cut list is one thing. Getting it done against starters will be another. He played a bit with the ones against the Ravens and caught one Andrew Luck pass, so it’s so far so good for the UFA out of Grambling. Watch for Rogers to get on the field more often during the first half against the Eagles as the Colts front office tries to evaluate him.
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9 – Is Luck’s back-up Scott Tolzien or Stephen Morris? Morris has led the Colts in rushing during each of the first two preseason games, and neither has thrown a pick while hitting on two TD passes. Statistically, Morris seems better suited to picking up chunks of yards while Tolzien has been more a dink and dunk guy who manages an offense. These quarterbacks are different flavors, but neither is Luck. If the Colts are forced to make this decision matter, they are in big trouble regardless, but I kind of like Morris.
8 – Is Dwayne Allen a receiving tight end who blocks, or a blocking tight end who catches the ball? Allen is capable of catching and blocking at a high level, but the Colts would rather see him gash defenses by creating mismatches in coverage with linebackers than helping set the edge of the pocket. But if that is what is necessary for the Colts to keep Luck upright, Allen will be a very athletic third tackle.
7 – Are the Colts deep enough to compete without Davis, Langford, Mathis (healthy), Gore (healthy), Robinson, Brown, Geathers, and Moore? If this was the regular season, the answer would almost certainly be no, regardless of the opponent. The biggest holes are at cornerback where the Colts have lost the one player they could not afford to lose – Vontae Davis. Fortunately, no one is going to hold the Colts accountable for losing in the preseason. If health is still a huge issue on September 11th, the Colts will either benefit from a soft opening quartile of the schedule, or dig themselves a hole.
6 – Will Hugh Thornton survive cuts? Thornton is an incredibly affable right guard who has never played up to expectations due to injury and sporadic effectiveness. He’s the last member of the woeful 2013 draft class to survive as a Colt, and it’s time for Thornton to prove himself worthy of a roster spot – or not.
5 – Is Antonio Morrison the real deal? Through two preseason games, Morrison appears to be as advertised – an athletic tackle machine, who – if healthy – can set a tone for an aggressive defense that establishes a tone through physicality. Morrison took a step up from the Bills game to the Ravens game, and to get on the field during the regular season, he needs to take another.
4 – Is Josh Ferguson an NFL running back? We know he can run, but there is a lot more to being a running back than running with the football. If Ferguson is going to function as a running back for the Colts, he needs to be able to pass block – especially if Le’Raven Clark is at right tackle. Ferguson missed blocks against the Ravens that he cannot miss during the regular season if Luck is going to stay upright and ambulatory.
3 – Without Robert Mathis and Kendall Langford, can anyone hit an opposing QB? Until Mathis got healthy toward the end of 2015, the Colts were among the worst teams in the NFL at putting pressure on the passer. Nothing will be more important for the Colts defense than sacks and pressures, and with Mathis at 35, it’s as likely as not there will be stretches where the Colts will have to succeed without him to compete for a playoff spot.
2 – Can Andrew Luck continue to make good decisions? In his first action since week nine last season, Luck was outstanding in both moving the ball down the field and staying clean. Luck is not going to complete every pass very often (he was 8-8 against the Ravens), but if he can keep from getting hit at the level he enjoyed last week, the Colts offense has a chance to right the ship and reassert dominance in the AFC South.
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1 – Who is the right tackle if Joe Reitz can’t go? We know Le’Raven Clark will get the call if Reitz sits against the Eagles because of a balky back. Clark is a big and athletic tackle who has all the physical tools to be a very good pro. At Texas Tech, Clark used a two-point stance exclusively, so he needs to learn how to play with his hand down and initiate contact. With fellow rookie Joe Haeg on the shelf, Clark needs to reach a level of competence very quickly or Luck is in peril. If Clark plays well tomorrow, maybe he winds up being the guy.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-6p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.