Still more Qs than As for Colts
Three weeks and 28 practices later, there still are more questions than answers.
As the Colts ended the Anderson University portion of training camp Wednesday, returning to Indianapolis for final preparations before preseason game No. 2 against the New York Giants Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, they packed plenty of uncertainty when it comes to the key issues facing them when they gathered on July 23.
Let’s revisit those key questions and see just where the team stands.
WILL RUNNING GAME BE A WEAPON OR A LIABILITY?
The optimism surrounding Trent Richardson’s ability to bounce back from a horrific season to regain his footing as a productive every-down back is palpable but thus far there is only minimal hard evidence in support. Richardson missed the first week of camp and has looked good in practices since but in the preseason opener against the Jets, carried five times for 13 yards, a depressingly familiar 2.6 per-carry average.
As good as Boom Herron looked as his backup, he did not broach the 4.0 mark (26 yards on seven carries) as the Colts produced just 59 yards on 26 tries (2.3). Ahmad Bradshaw not only hasn’t played yet, he scarcely has been allowed to absorb contact, donning a red jersey during the final days of practice to protect his health as he tries to come back from spinal fusion surgery in his neck.
IS DOUGHNUT DEFENSE DONE WITH?
The signs to this point are almost universally positive.
With free agent signees Arthur Jones and D’Qwell Jackson bringing much-needed experience and stability to the front seven, and third-year nose tackle Josh Chapman beginning to emerge as a legitimate plugger in the middle of the line, the middle of the defense has looked much, much more formidable than the past two years.
They limited the Jets to 101 rushing yards on 37 attempts, a 2.7 per-carry average), and three of their four biggest gains were by quarterbacks Michael Vick and Geno Smith. That’s hardly conclusive, given the limited reps both teams gave their starters, but it is an encouraging start.
SPEAKING OF DOUGHNUTS … THE OFFENSIVE LINE?
Just when the Colts were starting to feel good about Khaled Holmes as the starting center, he went down with an ankle sprain on his seventh snap against the Jets and is likely to miss at least two more weeks. While that timeline would put him back in the starting lineup for the regular-season opener Sept. 7 in Denver, Holmes will nevertheless miss critical game and practice reps and could go into his first career start with just 12 regular-season snaps of NFL experience. If Holmes struggles, it appears backup Jonotthan Harrison has potential, once he masters that center-quarterback exchange thing.
When Donald Thomas went down for the second year in a row with a quad injury, rookie Jack Mewhort became the first option, and he has missed time recently due to a sore right knee. So the revolving door at left guard is still spinning, and could lead to none other than Lance Louis, who hasn’t played in a regular-season game since tearing his ACL in Week 12 of the 2012 season.
The lone bright spot has been Hugh Thornton’s play at right guard appears to have settled one of the three interior spots, but the other two, not so much.
SAFETY IN NUMBERS?
You get the impression the Colts would like Delano Howell to nail down the starting spot opposite LaRon Landry because he has the athleticism and instincts to develop into a quality complement, but what he may lack is durability. He missed the final five games with a neck injury, and has missed a handful of practices with a stiff neck, so alarm bells may be sounding there. At least they have veteran Mike Adams, who has high-level experience as a starter and could be a reasonable stopgap.
HOW ARE THE WALKING WOUNDED?
Another area where there has been more bad news than good. The Colts had high hopes for running back Vick Ballard (Achilles) and Thomas (quad), but both have been lost for the season. Bradshaw remains a backup running back in theory only.
Reggie Wayne has been able to do everything asked of him in practice, and ditto Dwayne Allen, so those are encouraging signs. Regaining both would add another layer of options to the potentially potent offense.
WHO WILL STEP IN FOR MATHIS?
The play of Bjoern Werner has been one of the most consistent exclamation points of camp. The 2013 first-round pick struggled with the transition from defensive end in college to outside linebacker with the Colts, and injuries further mitigated his development. But he’s fully up to speed now and is playing with the aggression and productivity that have eased the team’s concerns about the pass rush from that position the first four games.
The only quandary here is what to do with Werner once Mathis returns, because indications are he’ll be far to valuable to use as only a situational player. Veteran Cam Johnson and rookie Jonathan Newsome also have flashed some potential.
WHAT IS LUCK’S NEXT LEVEL?
If he hasn’t already, Luck appears well on the way to establishing himself as one of the top five quarterbacks in the league. Progress toward his primary goals this year – better efficiency on third down and in the red zone – has yet to be adequately gauged but there’s little reason to doubt the ultimate outcome.