Colts veterans play waiting game
The red jersey is gone, and Ahmad Bradshaw hopes that means a green light. For Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis, however, caution still rules the day.
As the Colts head into their most meaningful preseason game, a nationally televised dress rehearsal Saturday night against the New Orleans Saints in Lucas Oil Stadium, it remains to be seen if these key veterans will be unleashed of if they will remain under wraps.
None have played in the first two preseason games, and are unlikely to play in the finale Thursday night in Cincinnati, a night expected to belong to the reserves.
Wayne (knee) and Bradshaw (neck) both are coming back from major surgeries, while Mathis will miss the first four games while serving an NFL suspension for testing positive for a PED.
Coach Chuck Pagano hasn’t revealed his plans, saying Wayne “might” play Saturday night but that it will be a “game-time decision.”
GM Ryan Grigson concurred with the coach’s conservative approach.
“We haven’t gotten to that point yet to where we’ve made a decision on that,” he said. “Reggie is the least of our worries. It really hasn’t come up all that often. We know that Reggie’s going to be ready when we need to call on him.”
Wayne may have nothing to prove from a body of work standpoint, but the 35-year-old wide receiver would welcome the opportunity to test out his body in a competitive environment – something he made clear early in training camp.
“I really don’t want my first tackle to be in a regular-season game,” he said. “I’d rather kind of get it out of the way. When that happens, I don’t know. I really don’t know what the coaches have planned for me. I don’t know how many snaps I need. I do understand that I do love the game of football and I want to play. I want to be out there.
“I want to be with my teammates. As far as the preseason, we’ll just play it by ear and see what they have in store for me. I’m truly going to take precaution but I do not want my first tackle, my first collision, to be a regular season game.”
While Mathis waits in the background, 2013 first-round pick Bjoern Werner has started both games at the rush linebacker position while also taking the lion’s share of the practice reps with the first unit.
Mathis, 33, is coming off the best season of his career with an NFL-best 19.5 sacks and is physically sound, so there is more certainty about what to expect when he is scheduled to return Oct. 5 against Baltimore.
“Do I ever question if Robert Mathis knows how to play this game? No. Has he done it at a high level for many years? Yes,” Grigson said. “It’s kind of trying to find a fine line to where you want him to be game-ready but, at the same time, game-ready for what? He’s not going to be there the first four games. So we’ve just got to be smart.
“We know that a guy like Robert Mathis on his own, he’s going to be getting ready. He’s going to be taking mental reps in his mind. He’s going to be dreaming about playing. He loves this game. So he’s another one that you just kind of don’t worry about.”
Mathis is the last player to complain, and has quietly accepted his relative inactivity.
“Whenever my number is called, I’ll answer the bell,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t need (to play) because we all need to sharpen our tools. Being a soldier and just answering the bell when needed. … I just have to stay on top of the details and just control what I can.”
Bradshaw’s situation is a little more dicey. The veteran is trying to revive his career after having two vertebrae in his neck fused. Though he has consistently maintained he feels stronger and more physically sound than before the surgery, Bradshaw also understands he won’t really know until he mixes it up with opposing defenders.
His former Giants teammate David Wilson, who had a similar neck surgery during the offseason, was forced to retire a few weeks ago after taking a hit in practice that aggravated his condition. Current Colts teammate Delano Howell is facing the possibility of a prolonged absence with the return of a neck problem that landed him on injured reserve the final five games of last season.
The Colts had Bradshaw wear the red “no-contact” jersey in practice the final week of training camp at Anderson University, but not once the team returned to its West 56th Street practice facility.
“I don’t feel like I need to (play Saturday night), but I want to,” he said. “There’s just something about getting out there and feeling the pace of the game and just getting back with the guys letting them know I still have it, can make plays and help this team.”
Bradshaw said he considered retirement after the incident last year when he took a hit in the San Francisco game that left him temporarily stunned, with pain shooting down both arms and legs. Not only did he return to the game, he wound up with 95 yards in that Week 3 win, the highest rushing total by a Colts back last season.
After undergoing the surgery and the rehab, however, Bradshaw is ready to return to the field.
“It’s just my nature to be hard-headed, I guess,” he said. “I’ll just play the game as it comes. I don’t expect to get hit and I don’t expect to get tackled, but that’s the nature of the game. That’s the nature of my position. Like I said, I think I’m ready for anything right now.”
The same is true of Wayne and Mathis. They are ready, and waiting.