INDIANAPOLIS – A short week to prepare and the fourth preseason game usually spells minimal work for the first unit, while rookies and younger players take their final test before knowing the fate of whether or not they made the season-opening 53-man roster for 2011.
For veteran quarterback Kerry Collins this will be his first time playing in a Colts uniform, but even the 17-year veteran admitted he will have a few butterflies come Thursday evening against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Certainly there will be a little bit of nerves just the first time running the offense in a game-type situation," Collins said. "It's (the offense) is a lot more involved than any offense I've been (in), so I've got to be on top of my game."
The short trip east across Interstate-74 also will provide a homecoming of sorts for a pair of former University of Cincinnati football players in offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach and defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews. Linkenbach joined Indianapolis last year as an undrafted free agent. Mathews was a seventh-round choice by the Colts, the 238th selection overall.
Any time players return to the town where they played their college ball, ticket requests can be overflowing but fortunately for Linkenbach, he said he has not had too many, at least not yet.
"Not as many as I expected so far," Linkenbach said. "I'm guessing they will come in but not too many because a lot of the guys (Cincinnati Bearcat football players) are preparing to play a game."
With the offensive line undergoing some shuffling during training camp, Linkenbach slid to both sides of the line but has seemed to settle in at right tackle, with Ryan Diem moving inside to right guard.
Linkenbach started four games in 2010 at two different positions along the offensive line. He opened the game at Denver last year at left tackle in place of regular Charlie Johnson. Linkenbach started three consecutive games at right guard later in the year, including November 14 against Cincinnati. Linkenbach played in 16 games overall, with the other 12 being mainly on placement or return units. He was the starting right tackle for the AFC Wild Card game against the New York Jets.
"I got some experience last year moving around on the line and it's just the same technique, but everything is flipped from the left side," Linkenbach. "Once you learn the whole offensive line, you are able to slide position-to-position and just change your technique slightly."
Mathews played in eight contests as a reserve defensive lineman. He had one tackle on the season and was inactive for eight contests.
Thursday night's contest against the Bengals marks the fourth preseason game, and that means the Colts will make their final cuts to set the season-opening roster soon afterward.
"It's a big week because of the fact that more often than not it's probably when they (younger players) are going to get the most playing time," Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "Also, the evaluation is key trying to determine whether or not they can play their particular position well enough to be a factor on the team."
The 2011 preseason games have taken on extra incentive for younger players because due to the NFL lockout, training camp was the first look that the coaching staff got in analyzing its players. Typically, coaches are able to evaluate rookies and younger players in off-season camps and OTAs (organized team activities). The combined number of workouts lost this past off-season numbered around 15, and that means a significant period of evaluation was missed, too.
"Any time that jobs are at stake it's huge," Caldwell said. "They (all players) have limited opportunities this year to show themselves without the benefit of our OTAs and things of that nature."